WASHINGTON — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has found a new rhetorical target as he prepares for a possible presidential run: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

At press conferences and speeches across the country, DeSantis began singling out Powell — often by name — for criticism, arguing that he had wrecked the economy and favored wealthy investors.

“This Fed chairman has been a complete and utter disaster,” DeSantis said recently in suburban Atlanta, speaking as part of a nationwide book tour. “And you’re paying for it, and people around the country are paying for it.”

The criticism is part of a broader message from the governor, who has positioned himself as a strong critic of even ostensibly nonpartisan government officials who he says are part of an unaccountable bureaucracy in Washington.

It’s an approach that has led DeSantis to regularly attack Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic did the country great harm.

But ahead of the widely anticipated presidential campaign, the governor’s focus on Powell could double as an implicit criticism of former President Donald Trump, who nominated the current central bank chairman in 2017.

In a party whose voters are still reluctant to accept direct attacks against the former president, Republicans say, pursuing his staff choices as president could be one of the few safe lines of attack for DeSantis.

“You can’t say up front that Trump is bad or that Trump has failed,” said Liam Donovan, a GOP operative. “You can tell these people that Trump has failed to empower or led us astray.”

The governor, Donovan added, “is setting the table for future arguments with Powell and Fauci and other Trump-era figures, whom he will argue are failures of the American people.”

DeSantis has not yet announced whether he will run for president next year, and many Republicans believe he will wait until the end of the state legislative session to do so, possibly later this spring.

Presumptive polls in the GOP primary show him with the second most support from Republican voters behind only Trump, though his standing slipped after reports surfaced that the former president would be impeached.

Public criticism of the Federal Reserve and its leaders has traditionally been a sensitive issue in Washington, with some politicians worried that applying political pressure would jeopardize its ability to make independent decisions, including setting interest rates. Officials at President Joe Biden’s White House regularly declined to comment, citing central bank independence.

As president, Trump criticized Powell, even threatening to fire him. Biden renominated Powell to a new term in 2021.

DeSantis, who has no authority over the Federal Reserve as governor, has not shown the same composure, saying the financial institution has laid the groundwork for inflation after “printing trillions and trillions of dollars.”

“It’s obviously going to create inflationary pressures,” the Republican said in Naples. “And so people were saying it, it was always going to happen. They didn’t want to listen. And so your inflation started to spread.”

Powell, the governor said, initially called inflation “transient” before belatedly realizing that the central bank needed to act.

“So what does the Fed do?” DeSantis continued. “Jerome Powell, they started hiking at a very fast rate. And this is causing displacement in the banking sector. It causes people to lose because they take their eyes off the ball and don’t know what they’re doing.”

DeSantis’ criticism of the Federal Reserve is certainly not treading entirely new ground for a Republican politician.

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Former US Rep. Ron Paul of Texas rose to political prominence due to his ambition to “end the Fed”, a plan to abolish the central bank outright. The policy was attractive to many liberal-leaning Republicans, who resist any government involvement in the economy.

For some of those same Republicans, more than a dozen years later, criticism of the central bank may still resonate.

“There’s just a general mistrust of money and fiscal policy,” Donovan said. There is a never-ending path of general public dissatisfaction with what is happening to the financial system.”

DeSantis hasn’t shown any indication that he’s ready to go as far as Paul. And unlike Fauci, the governor did not say Powell should have been removed from his position.

But DeSantis’ criticism of Powell extends beyond inflation. He also blamed the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, for bailing out Silicon Valley bank depositors after a high-profile failure in March.

“If there was a bank in this part of Pennsylvania that served agriculture or small businesses, do you think they would have been bailed out in the same situation? No,” said DeSantis, speaking at an annual gathering of leading conservatives in Pennsylvania. “So what they’re trying to do with their policies is put all of us in harm’s way, but the elites stay out of their decisions.”

©2023 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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