Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said that the indictments of former President Donald J. Trump had “distorted” the Republican presidential primary, tacitly admitting that the former president’s legal problems have helped him.
“If I could have one thing change, I wish Trump hadn’t been indicted on any of this stuff,” Mr. DeSantis told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview that aired on Thursday. He added that the indictments had “just crowded out, I think, so much other stuff and it’s sucked out all the oxygen.”
With just weeks until Iowans cast the first votes in the race, Mr. DeSantis’s campaign has struggled to gain ground on Mr. Trump and has had to focus more on battling former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina for second place.
When Mr. DeSantis entered the race in May, he was widely regarded as the most viable challenger to Mr. Trump. That reputation frayed as his campaign struggled to articulate an effective message, organize in key early primary states and guard against internal turmoil. Last week, the top strategist for Mr. DeSantis’s super PAC, Jeff Roe, stepped down from his post.
Mr. DeSantis did not elaborate on his comments during a campaign appearance at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Coralville, Iowa, on Thursday morning, and he barely mentioned Mr. Trump. He did not take questions from reporters after the event.
But Mr. DeSantis has previously expressed frustration over how much attention Mr. Trump’s various legal troubles have attracted. “That is not what we want from this election,” Mr. DeSantis told reporters during a campaign stop outside Des Moines on Wednesday. “What we want is a referendum on the failures of the Biden administration.”
Mr. Trump’s allies and supporters have maintained that the charges against him have only fueled his rise and fortified his strength as a candidate.
In August, days before Mr. Trump was charged in Georgia over his efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, he boasted to a crowd of supporters in Alabama that he needed “one more indictment” to solidify his win in the race.
Now facing four indictments and 91 felony counts, Mr. Trump has maintained a significant lead. A new poll from The New York Times and Siena College found that even as a growing number of Republican voters believe he has committed serious federal crimes, they still support his return to office.
And Mr. Trump’s legal problems continue to grow. On Tuesday, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that he was ineligible to hold office again because of his actions related to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The decision could strike him from the state’s primary ballot, but Mr. Trump’s campaign has pledged to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the CBN interview, Mr. DeSantis also singled out the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, who has brought one of the cases against Mr. Trump, and accused him of “distorting justice” and abusing his power.
He also railed against Democratic prosecutors more broadly — and, as governor, he has taken a particularly hard line against them. He has removed two Democratic prosecutors from their posts over the last two years, citing their stances on abortion and lenience on violent crime.
Nicholas Nehamas contributed reporting.