Trump vs. DeSantis: Simmering Rivalry Erupts in Sight


WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have been on a collision course from the start.

Viewing the Florida governor as his most formidable enemy in the Republican Party, the former president sought to keep DeSantis in his place, often noting the role his endorsement played in elevating the relatively obscure congressman to the rank of leader of one of the largest American states.

DeSantis, for his part, has long praised Trump and emulated his style, but notably refused to set aside his own White House ambitions as the former president prepares to return to his old job. In the clearest sign of tension, the pair staged dueling rallies in Florida in the closing days of this year’s midterm elections. At his event, Trump unveiled his derisive new nickname for DeSantis, calling him Ron DeSanctimonious.

The simmering rivalry between the Republican Party’s biggest stars is entering a new, more volatile phase after the GOP’s disappointing performance in what was supposed to be a blockbuster election year. DeSantis, who won a dominant re-election, is increasingly seen as the future of the party, while Trump, whose favored candidates have lost races from Pennsylvania to Arizona, is widely accused of holding the party back.

That leaves Trump in perhaps his most vulnerable position since he sparked the violent insurgency in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. As he moves forward with plans to announce a third presidential bid on Tuesday, Trump turns to a playbook that has served him through decades of personal, financial, and political turmoil: focusing on his enemies’ perceived weaknesses and hitting them with repeated attacks.

« That’s how President Trump fights, » said Michael Caputo, a longtime adviser who worked on Trump’s first campaign.

In the days following Tuesday’s election, Trump made racist remarks about Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, another potential Republican presidential candidate, saying his name sounds Chinese. He lambasted the coverage of Fox News, which, like much of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, has shifted its tone on Trump in recent days. But much of his vitriol is directed at DeSantis, a sign of the threat Trump perceives from the Florida governor.

In a lengthy statement, Trump called DeSantis « an average REPUBLICAN governor with great public relations » and expressed fury that DeSantis hadn’t publicly ruled out challenging him.

The approach recalls Trump’s strategy in 2016, when he wiped out a field of nearly a dozen rivals with a scorched-earth approach that involved insulting the appearance of his rival’s wife at the time. , Ted Cruz, and to claim that his father may have played a role in John F. Kennedy. assassination. (Cruz later became a top ally in Congress.)

His attacks only become more ruthless when he ends up against the wall. After the release of the « Access Hollywood » tape, for example, in which Trump used vulgar language to brag about sexual assault, he responded by inviting women who accused the husband of his rival Hillary Clinton, the former president, rape and unwanted sexual advances. in a presidential debate.

“The strategy worked in 2016, there is no doubt. The difference now, and I say this with all due respect to Ron DeSantis, he never entered the ring with a pugilist like Donald Trump,” said longtime Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski, who ran his campaign. primary in 2016. « Mike Tyson has an old saying: Everyone had a plan until you got punched in the face. »

The question is whether the insults will land differently when it comes to DeSantis. Among many of Trump’s most loyal supporters, DeSantis is considered a member of the same team. In interviews over the past year at Trump rallies and other conservative rallies, Trump supporters have often said they see DeSantis as Trump’s natural successor. Many have expressed disbelief that the two men will ever collide because they seem so closely aligned.

DeSantis’ allies expect him to make a presidential announcement after the state legislative session, which ends in May. Until then, they expect him to focus on governance and avoid engaging directly with Trump, as he has done this week.

Regardless of when an official presidential campaign is announced, DeSantis supporters are encouraging him to capitalize on the interest he’s garnering right now. Some point to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as a cautionary tale, noting that he garnered widespread attention in 2012 as a potential presidential candidate. He balked and by the time he sought the White House in 2016, the energy had shifted towards Trump.

“If you want to run for president, you have to take a chance when he runs,” said Matt Caldwell, a vocal ally of DeSantis in Florida.

DeSantis won re-election by nearly 20 points, including in many longtime Democratic strongholds. The victory, his supporters say, demonstrates the extent of his political appeal beyond the hard-line GOP base, which contrasts with Trump. Caldwell noted that DeSantis’ coalition included Latino and suburban voters, voting blocs that Trump was alienating.

“The coalitions he built, the bridges he built, the voting groups that had never touched a Republican before have now embraced Republicans and Republicanism in the form of the DeSantis administration,” said Brian Ballard, a longtime Florida lobbyist who served as DeSantis’ first chairman. and also raised millions for Trump. « He is certainly a leader and someone who I think has demonstrated the kind of coalition building we need to win back the White House. »

Above all, Republican strategists say voters are looking for a winner.

Conservative radio host Erick Erickson, who has wavered on Trump over the years, said many of his listeners were ready for DeSantis.

« They love Trump, thank him, wish him well and are ready to part ways, » Erickson said of his interlocutors. “Trump voters love Trump because they love winners who fight. That’s exactly how they view DeSantis. The only guy in between who is a loser is Trump.

Sensing weakness, some insiders in the Republican establishment began a series of preliminary conversations about how to use their resources to stop Trump in 2024, realizing that a crowded primary field could simply divide the electorate and allow Trump a easier path to nomination. However, there are few signs that the Republican establishment is ready or able to unite behind DeSantis or any other Trump alternative, even as some prominent Republicans are beginning to openly denounce Trump as a political liability.

Other potential 2024 nominees, meanwhile, wait in the wings, with some hoping Trump and DeSantis will hurt each other so badly that voters will be hungry for a less pugilist alternative.

Sarah Longwell, a Trump critic who heads the Republican Accountability Project, said she’s for « anyone but Trump » in 2024, but she’s not necessarily enthusiastic about DeSantis.

“Hopefully there will be a strong Republican primary,” Longwell said. “I definitely want every Republican to run against Trump. But I also think the Republican Party can and should do better than a cheap Trump knockoff, which I think is Ron DeSantis.

Next week, DeSantis will be among several 2024 Republican prospects gathered in Nevada for a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. The guest list includes former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and limited-time Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. Trump declined an invitation.

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s top benefactor, Miriam Adelson, has vowed to remain neutral in the 2024 Republican primary, even after the group aggressively backed Trump in the last election.

Hogan, a fierce critic of Trump for years, is expected to increasingly run himself for the Republican presidential nomination.

« Going forward, there’s going to be a battle between whether we’re the party that represents common sense conservative leadership, or whether we’re the party that caters to one person’s whims, » ​​Hogan told The Associated. Press. « I’m tired of losing and cheating. It’s time to start winning again.

Steve Peoples and Jill Colvin, Associated Press


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