Voices: The cold war between DeSantis and Trump is heating up

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Virus Outbreak Florida (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has benefited from something of a media blitz this week. The New Yorker published a long profile, while the Washington Post reported that Florida voters are generally happy with his laissez-faire approach to the Covid-19 pandemic. Politico, meanwhile, reported that DeSantis has reeled in multiple donors who formerly backed Donald Trump — and that he hasn’t sought out Trump’s endorsement for his re-election.

Those last two show just how significant the cold war between Trump and DeSantis really is.

As Trump weighs whether to stage a third run for president in 2024, DeSantis is clearly making a play for the Republican nomination for president. He also got an unexpected gift when a federal grand jury indicted his 2018 opponent Andrew Gillum, meaning he can now boast that having already beat a corrupt Democrat, he is well-placed to vanquish whomever the party nominates to challenge him.

It’s quite a turnaround from just a decade ago. When DeSantis was in Congress, he was a minor player in the hellraisers’ club that is the House Freedom Caucus, failing to stand out among the likes of Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows and Scott Perry. When Senator Marco Rubio vacated his Senate seat for his 2016 presidential campaign, DeSantis jumped at the chance to fill it – but then Rubio flamed out against Trump and ran for another Senate term after all. That left DeSantis to opt for another term in the House.

Afterward, DeSantis would occasionally try working with Democrats, as was the case when your reporter covered his push to end taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlements on Capitol Hill. But like other breakout right-wing leaders, his star rose thanks to frequent appearances on Fox News – and an ad of him reading about Trump to his kids.

Having closed down his state at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in 2020, DeSantis reopened it after only a few weeks and took pride in refusing to follow other more cautious states’ lead. He has even sold gear emblazoned with the words “Don’t Fauci my Florida”. This has all made him a darling of the right, and as a result, Trump now sees him as a threat.

And there’s plenty of reason for the former president to do so. A University of New Hampshire poll released Wednesday shows DeSantis at a statistical tie in the state that holds the first-in-the-nation primary, with DeSantis earning 39 per cent of the vote and Trump earning 37 per cent. Last year, Trump was at 43 per cent to DeSantis’s 18.

Of course, Trump likely won’t take too kindly to DeSantis’s rising popularity and his outreach to donors. Nor will he take kindly to the fact that DeSantis hasn’t asked for his endorsement — since for all that Trump might be wary of endorsing a potential challenger, he has also shown time and again how much he loves a groveler.

As I reported earlier this year, DeSantis told the former president he would not run if Trump runs. But politicians have sell-by dates, and plenty of would-be Republican juggernaut candidates – from DeSantis’s gubernatorial predecessor Jeb Bush to Chris Christie – ran for president long after their time had passed and ended up being humiliated.

And it looks like Trump’s world is already putting out a bounty on DeSantis. A poll from last May conducted by former Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio showed DeSantis in a statistical tie against Representative Charlie Crist, one of his potential Democratic challengers in this year’s governor’s race.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of that poll. It didn’t screen for likely voters, just registered voters; it was conducted last month and only just released now. But considering it was released to Marc Caputo, one of the best reporters covering Florida politics, it was clearly a warning shot fired at DeSantis by a wary Trumpworld.