Trump and DeSantis are on a collision course in 2024 as the Florida governor’s national stock rose, a rise punctuated Tuesday night after DeSantis won re-election in Florida by nearly 20 points and Trump-backed candidates across the country have largely underperformed.
DeSantis won Florida by historic margins in what was once the nation’s biggest swing state. Conservative media institutions like Fox News appeared to side with DeSantis, as did the New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid that ran headlines calling DeSantis “DeFuture” the day after the election.
“NewsCorp, which is Fox, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, which is no longer big, is everything to Governor Ron DeSanctimonious,” Trump said.
Trump also criticized DeSantis’ hands-off response to the pandemic, one of the governor’s key accomplishments among conservatives that has boosted his national profile.
DeSantis is “an average REPUBLICAN governor with great public relations, who didn’t have to shut down his state, but did, unlike other Republican governors,” Trump wrote.
Trump has taken more subtle snaps of DeSantis in recent weeks, including the new nickname. But Thursday night’s statement is a sharp escalation in tension between Trump and a governor who increasingly poses a threat to the former president’s White House ambitions.
DeSantis, whose campaign did not return a request for comment, has so far not publicly responded to Trump’s rebuke.
“I think Ron is very clearly living rent-free in the former president’s head,” said Stephen Lawson, a Georgia-based strategist who served as communications director for DeSantis’ successful 2018 bid for governor. “Ron hasn’t said a single word and they smartly think Tuesday’s huge win allows him to continue talking about his record without having to acknowledge Trump.”
“It’s 1,000% the right decision,” Lawson said of DeSantis. “Trump keeps throwing boomerangs.”
Trump’s most ardent supporters, however, greet the escalation with glee, saying DeSantis deserves Trump’s ire because the governor hasn’t publicly announced his 2024 intentions.
“Unfortunately, everything President Trump says is true. Ron DeSantis owes his governorship to Donald Trump and challenging him in 2024 would be a treacherous act of disloyalty,” said Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser.
Trump’s endorsement played a huge role in DeSantis’ victory in the 2018 GOP primary over former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was an early frontrunner. In his statement, the ex-president said he supported DeSantis because he “didn’t know” Putnam. On Thursday night, former Putnam advisers were caught off guard by being embroiled in the statement, but one said “even at the worst, Adam wasn’t happy, but he never said only one bad thing about Trump.”
There are mixed responses to Trump’s escalation, according to a dozen people in Trump and DeSantis’ orbit. But even those who support the former president say public criticism of a popular governor who just won a historic victory seems misguided.
“Obviously it’s escalating. It’s total gunfire,” said a Trump adviser who was granted anonymity to speak freely. “That’s not what I would have done if that It was up to me, but you can’t argue with Donald Trump’s tactics. They work. He is wild but effective. He was never going to be held back for long.
Trump’s campaign comes after a chunk of his hand-picked candidates had disappointing midterm results, possibly shattering Republican hopes of retaking the Senate and giving the GOP, if they win the House, a much smaller majority than many had expected. A key race in Georgia between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Trump-endorsed Republican challenger Herschel Walker is expected to make a runoff as Trump distracts with his feud with DeSantis.
In addition to DeSantis’ landslide victory, Florida Republicans won supermajorities in the House and Senate, giving the governor nearly unchecked power to build and enact a policy platform that will boost his national profile ahead of an expected 2024 announcement in late spring or summer 2023.
For Republicans in Florida, Trump’s statement speaks of one thing: despair.
“He’s obviously threatened by a DeSantis presidential election,” said a longtime Republican consultant from Florida, who spoke on condition of anonymity to openly discuss the former president and DeSantis. “And by doing that, I think he will lose a lot of his base support.”