Washington — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that the ages of President Biden and former President Donald Trump are “absolutely a legitimate concern” for voters in the 2024 presidential race and believes Americans will be ready for the next generation of leadership if he is the GOP’s pick to face-off against Mr. Biden in the general election.
“The presidency is not a job for someone that’s 80 years old,” DeSantis, a GOP candidate for president, told “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell. “And there’s nothing, you know, wrong with being 80. Obviously I’m the governor of Florida. I know a lot of people who are elderly. They’re great people. But you’re talking about a job where you need to give it 100%. We need an energetic president.”
Noting that many political leaders in Washington are 75 years old or older, DeSantis also suggested that the Founders, if given another chance, “probably would’ve put an age limit on some of these offices.”
“I think Americans — if Biden’s the Democrat nominee, I’m the Republican nominee — I think there’s going to be a lot of Americans that are going to want to see a generational passing of the torch,” he said.
Age has become a growing focal point of the 2024 campaign, since Mr. Biden is 80 and Trump, the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, is 77.
DeSantis, who will turn 45 on Thursday, and several of his other Republican opponents have sought to use the age gaps between themselves and Mr. Biden and Trump to their benefit, arguing the nation needs a president with vigor and that it’s time for a new generation to take charge in Washington.
A CBS News poll published Sunday found that 80% of Americans believe elected officials older than 75 risk being out of touch with the times, and 78% have concerns about their ability to perform their job. More than half of Americans polled, 53%, believe the presidency is too demanding for someone over the age of 75.
On foreign policy, DeSantis said China is the top national security threat facing the U.S.
“We don’t want a war with China,” he said. “We want to prevent a war with China.”
The way to prevent a war, he said, is “through strength and having a strong military.” When asked whether he would send U.S. forces to Taiwan if China invades, DeSantis called Taiwan an ally and said the U.S. has longstanding policy “about how we project our actions and intentions regarding Taiwan,” and that there would be “continuity of that” if he were president.
DeSantis does, however, want to use U.S. troops at the Mexico border, saying he would authorize deadly force against cartel members trying to come into the country.
“We are going to lean in and we are going to defend our country,” he said, recalling a visit to the Arizona border, where he said repairs were being made to the border wall where he claims cartels had cut through.
“And yet they’re being allowed to come into our country?” he said. “They got backpacks on with fentanyl and all this stuff. So in those situations, yes, we will have deadly force authorized.”
“Would you send missiles into Mexico?” O’Donnell asked.
“We would use all available, the tactics … can be debated,” he said, adding that it “would be dependent on the situation.”
“The reality is they are overrunning our border,” he said. “They’re sex trafficking, they’re human trafficking and they’re bringing in massive quantities of drugs. I mean, our country is being invaded and hurt by what they’re doing. And the question is, do we just throw up our hands and do we say, there’s nothing we can do about it? Or does a leader take action?”
DeSantis said that such force would not be used against migrants that don’t appear to be cartel members, and suggested that cartel members could be differentiated by wearing backpacks and breaking through the wall.
“You have to identify them as being hostile,” he said. “I mean, if there’s a woman with a baby, they’re not a cartel member. There’s not going to be authorization to just shoot somebody like that. But when somebody’s got a backpack on and they’re, and they’re breaking through the wall, you know that that’s hostile intent and you have every right to take action under those circumstances.”
“And if you, guess what, you do that a few times, the times are changing,” he said. “They will have to respond to that.”
As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss an arms trade, DeSantis said he would respond to the threat of North Koreans obtaining advanced nuclear weapons by putting him “in a box” and keeping “the pressure” on him.
Asked whether he would authorize a preemptive strike against North Korea, DeSantis said “of course,” if the country was about to launch a missile at the U.S.
“But that would require a certain amount of evidentiary threshold,” he said.