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2024 Watch: The week Ron DeSantis started hitting back at Donald Trump

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has seen his fighter image spread and his standing skyrocket among conservatives across the country, thanks to his aggressive culture wars over the past two years as he targeted the media, businesses and teachers’ unions, and its full-throttle pushback against coronavirus pandemic restrictions

However, over the past six months, and particularly over the past few weeks, there has been a mostly one-sided tussle between DeSantis and former President Trump as the race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination heats up.

DeSantis remains on the sidelines in 2024, but is widely expected to enter the race, and in an interview that aired Thursday on Fox Nation, the Florida governor said “stay tuned” when he is asked about his political future. Trump, who launched his third White House campaign in November, sees DeSantis as his main rival and has repeatedly and increasingly lambasted the Florida governor in recent months.

Until last week, DeSantis had mostly deflected or ignored Trump’s barrages as he also brushed off repeated questions about a Republican run for the White House. However, as the former president’s legal troubles piled up amid looming indictments – which would make an already rocky race in 2024 even more turbulent – and with Trump’s attacks on Florida Governor DeSantis accelerating applauded.


File photos of former President Trump, left, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. (Scott Eisen, Spencer Platt)

Sources in DeSantis’ wider political orbit say the Florida governor ‘lives inside Trump’s head’ as he successfully compares himself to the former president on their different responses to the pandemic, style of government and their eligibility.

However, a source in Trump’s political orbit took aim at DeSantis, telling Fox News that “if he’s the one getting in the mud with Trump, he’s going to get ripped off so hard and so fast.”

DeSantis’ notable shift in approach comes as the extraordinary legal troubles surrounding Trump have escalated in recent days, with the possibility of an impeachment hanging over the former president.


After Trump repeatedly slammed DeSantis for remaining silent following the former president’s warning last weekend that he could face impeachment and a possible arrest in connection with looming criminal charges by a New York prosecutor, the governor spoke out on Monday.

DeSantis ripped Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over the likely indictment and claimed the Manhattan district attorney was “pursuing a political agenda and militarizing the office.”

Former President Trump speaks during a campaign event Monday, March 13, 2023 in Davenport, Iowa.

Former President Trump speaks during a campaign event Monday, March 13, 2023 in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ron Johnson)

Trump faces an indictment for his alleged involvement in silent money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016, to keep her quiet ahead of that year’s election over her claims that she reportedly had sex years earlier with Trump. The former president denies the case and any wrongdoing related to the payments to Daniels.

DeSantis also called Bragg a “Soros DA” – a reference to Democratic billionaire George Soros, who is a regular target of conservatives. Additionally, he accused Bragg of being part of a group of prosecutors who are a “threat to society.”

DeSantis – in an apparent blow to Trump’s moral code – added that “I don’t know what goes into paying a porn star silent money to get silence on some type of alleged matter. . I can’t talk about it.”

The governor also pointed out that “I have real issues that I have to deal with here in the state of Florida.”


The comments apparently infuriated the former president, who responded with a series of new attacks on the Florida governor, once again slamming his former ally for being ungrateful, disloyal and an “average governor”. The former president’s surrogates were even less friendly.

However, DeSantis stood by his comments in an interview with British media host Piers Morgan. Excerpts and quotes from the interview, which aired in its entirety Thursday on Fox Nation, have been making headlines all week.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addresses voters in Iowa on March 10, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addresses voters in Iowa on March 10, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

He highlighted his landslide 19-point re-election victory last year – in contrast to Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election – and pointed to his “no frills” style of government compared to the tumult that characterized the Trump years in the White House. DeSantis criticized the former president for not firing federal health official Dr. Anthony Fauci and mocked the derogatory nicknames Trump repeatedly called the governor.

A political adviser to the former president, who requested anonymity to speak more freely, charged that “the attacks Ron has made are weak at best.”

Highlighting DeSantis’ 2022 Democratic gubernatorial challenger, the adviser added “we’re not Charlie Crist and this isn’t going to be like a pie”.

“We wake up every morning thinking about how we can punch Ron DeSantis in the face,” the adviser said.


Another source close to the former president told Fox News that “Trump understands that if he can slow down some of Ron’s money and shoot this guy, maybe Ron is guessing.”

Sources in DeSantis’ wider orbit said any presidential campaign launch would come in late spring or early summer, after the current legislative session ends. However, the governor’s latest travel itinerary to the early voting states of Iowa and Nevada and a trip next month to New Hampshire are raising more speculation in 2024.

In speeches this year, the governor has presented his political victories in Florida as a road map for the entire nation. Additionally, he traveled the country, highlighting his “Florida Master Plan” and promoting his recently released memoir, “The Courage to Be Free.”

However, his polls in the race for the GOP presidential nomination in early 2024 have fallen in recent weeks as Trump has made gains.

Trump, in a statement Wednesday, argued that DeSantis is “beginning to fight back” because “his polls have collapsed, so he has no other choice.”

“Ron DeSanctimonious is America’s most overrated politician,” Trump said in a separate post Thursday. “His numbers on COVID, crime and education are terrible, but no one knows. Now they know. He shouldn’t even show up!”

Former Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, who runs pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc., charged that “polls that showed him [DeSantis] maybe being a viable alternative has eroded, and now President Trump maintains an insurmountable lead with national attention in his corner…if Ron wanted a chance in 2024, that was it, but he’s already ignited faster than Jeb Bush.”

Longtime Republican strategist and broadcaster Ryan Williams says DeSantis’ new, more aggressive responses had to happen.

“DeSantis was basically forced to do this because President Trump and his team are already attacking Ron DeSantis because they realize he’s the biggest threat to his candidacy right now. That’s always been Donald Trump’s MO – just grind your opponent to dust and do it from the start. He did it for all the candidates in 2016 and he’s using the same strategy now,” Williams said.


However, Williams, a veteran of multiple GOP presidential campaigns, noted that Desantis, “set a contrast on an issue that resonates with the base — the president’s handling of the pandemic and keeping Dr. Fauci in his role. Dr. Fauci is highly unpopular with Republican base voters and this is an area where the DeSantis team believes they can draw a contrast between how the President handled the pandemic while in office and how which Governor DeSantis managed in Florida.

“If you want to win the Republican nomination, you’ll have to take it from Donald Trump,” Williams said. “He’s not going to give it to you and he’s going to try to attack you at every turn. So you have to find the best way to respond to him, defend your own record and not alienate the base. It’s a difficult dance and DeSantis going to have to make adjustments as we go.”


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