TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is aiming to gain ground in the polls after the second Republican debate.

“The people in Washington are shutting down the American dream with their reckless behavior,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, who was positioned in the middle of the stage, also took a shot at former president Donald Trump for skipping the debate again.

The criticism came shortly after a similar attack from Christie, who said Trump “hides behind the walls of his golf clubs” instead of answering questions.

“Donald Trump is missing in action,” DeSantis said. “He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record.”

DeSantis’ swipe at Trump marks a definite shift for the Florida governor, who largely avoided pointed criticism of the former president in the first debate.

The moderators asked DeSantis about controversial new education standards in Florida that included instruction on how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

“That’s a hoax that was perpetuated by Kamala Harris,” DeSantis responded, and said there’s too much “indoctrination” in education.

DeSantis also said Trump needs to explain himself regarding abortion.

“The former president, you know, he’s missing in action tonight,” DeSantis said. “He’s had a lot to say about that. He should be here explaining his comments to try to say that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing. I want him to look into the eyes and tell people who’ve been fighting this fight for a long time.”

DeSantis said the United States needs a “totally new approach to China.”

Part of what he calls for Biden is already doing. That includes strengthening U.S. hard power in the Indo-Pacific. DeSantis does call for “decoupling” the U.S. economy from China. Biden is trying to wean the U.S. supply chain off China but denies seeking to decouple the two economies.

DeSantis has been trailing Trump in the polls, losing even more ground in recent weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.