In a podcast conversation with the British actor Russell Brand on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida rejected characterizing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol as an organized plot by former President Donald J. Trump’s supporters to disrupt the transfer of power.
“It was not an insurrection,” Mr. DeSantis said, continuing to walk a tightrope on the subject of whether the former president, his main rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, bears responsibility for the riot.
When Mr. Brand brought up the likelihood that Mr. Trump will soon be charged for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election and asked Mr. DeSantis whether he would pardon Mr. Trump, the Florida governor sidestepped the question. Instead, he accused the news media of exploiting the issue.
“These are people that were there to attend a rally and then they were there to protest,” he said. “Now it devolved, and it devolved into a riot. But the idea that this was a plan to somehow overthrow the government of the United States is not true, and it’s something that the media had spun up just to try to basically get as much mileage out of it and use it for partisan and for political aims.”
While Mr. DeSantis called the riot “unfortunate,” he was critical of the most serious charges that the Justice Department has brought against some of those who took part in the attack.
“I know a lot of people that were there who were just there,” he said. “They didn’t have any designs on doing anything.”
He continued, “But to say that they were seditionists is just wrong.”
This week, Mr. Trump publicly acknowledged that he could soon face a federal indictment in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, adding to his legal baggage.
A grand jury in Georgia is additionally weighing criminal charges against Mr. Trump for his actions after the 2020 election, when he pressured state election officials to “find” votes to overturn his defeat there.
But the confluence of criminal cases does not seem to have hurt Mr. Trump’s stock with his G.O.P. base. He leads Mr. DeSantis by roughly 30 percentage points in national polls.
When Mr. Brand mentioned Mr. Trump’s hold on Republicans, Mr. DeSantis, who had narrowed the polling gap this year before formally entering the race in May, shrugged at the idea that he was struggling to gain traction.
He said that G.O.P. primary voters were not following the race closely yet and that national polls were not an indicator of success in early nominating states.
As Mr. Trump has taunted him about the enthusiasm for his candidacy, Mr. DeSantis has recently expanded his tightly controlled news media footprint beyond friendly right-wing outlets. His efforts began with an interview on CNN and included his conversation with the tattooed Mr. Brand, which appeared on YouTube and Rumble, a streaming site popular with conservatives, before moving entirely to Rumble.
Mr. Brand, who has tilted to the right and peddled conspiracy theories about Covid vaccines, gushed about Mr. DeSantis’s response to the pandemic and his political acumen.
“This is a campaign that’s still very early on,” Mr. DeSantis said. “Most people are not paying attention over the summer.”