When Election Day arrives in Florida, Donald Trump will be voting for a Republican whose political demise he may soon find himself plotting.
Months after Trump told The Wall Street Journal he would support Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election bid, the former president and his home state’s governor appear to be increasingly clashing in a heated primary 2024 presidential race. While neither has formally announced a presidential campaign, both have taken steps in the final days of the 2022 cycle to establish themselves as team players and kingmakers, locking horns in these activities.
“We have a rift with Trump. Big surprise,” said a source close to the DeSantis campaign, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “It’s no secret that things are good between them [Trump and DeSantis] Right Now. They’re not punching each other, but we’re not helping them and they’re not helping us.”
A rivalry that had existed mostly behind the scenes erupted publicly this week after DeSantis recorded a robocall endorsing Republican businessman Joe O’Dea, an underdog in the Colorado Senate race who earlier this month pledged to “actively campaign” against Trump if he is elected. a third presidential candidacy. While the Florida governor has endorsed other Republican midterm candidates, none have been as explicitly critical of Trump as O’Dea.
The move did not go unnoticed by the former president, who has spent months complaining to aides about DeSantis and expanding on claims that the governor would easily sell in a Republican primary.
“BIG MISTAKE!” Trump wrote on DeSantis’ Social Truth platform endorsing O’Dea. Three days later, Trump announced plans for a rally in South Florida with the state’s senior senator, Marco Rubio. DeSantis was not invited, a source told CNN.
The first signs of a strain in Trump’s relationship with DeSantis began last fall amid the Florida Republican’s growing popularity and thinly veiled criticism of Trump’s Covid-19 policies as president.
Despite efforts by allies of both men to ease tensions, their strained relationship has lingered for months and now appears on the rise as Trump prepares a post-2024 campaign announcement and DeSantis moves toward re-election with potentially historic support of Florida Hispanics.
“Trump should be concerned because DeSantis has built an unprecedented base in the Hispanic community,” said a Florida-based Republican consultant.
DeSantis has also spent the past year making inroads with deep-pocketed Republican donors and laying the groundwork for a potential 2024 campaign launch next year, according to his allies, some of whom said he doesn’t want to rush. its potential entry into what is probable. be a multitudinous primary. It is these open steps towards a candidacy for the White House that have irritated the former president the most.
Days after Trump blasted the Florida governor for endorsing the Colorado Senate race, DeSantis committed another mortal sin in the former president’s eyes when he once again refused to rule out a presidential run if Trump is the nominee. During a debate Monday against his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, DeSantis refused to commit to serving a four-year term if re-elected, remaining silent as his opponent repeatedly raised the issue. Privately, Trump allies gloated about the debate, questioning DeSantis’ ability to withstand a debate against Trump.
“DeSantis did well for a race that is crushing,” said a Republican operative who has worked with both men. “It’s a whole different ball game when you’re on a stage with Donald Trump. Trump has a very effective way of getting under people’s skin, especially on the debate stage.”
Other Republicans dismissed those conclusions as premature, even unfair, given DeSantis’ clear lead in his re-election race and Trump’s inimitable debate style.
“I don’t think this debate mattered at all,” said Brian Ballard, a Florida-based Republican consultant who maintains close ties to both Trump and DeSantis.
“Donald Trump on the debate stage is the most unique political animal of the last 100 years. Everyone was decimated by him [in 2016]Ballard added. “I think Ron DeSantis can hold his own against anybody, but Donald Trump is his own character.”
For months, Trump has worked to become the automatic favorite in a contested 2024 primary as he asks his own pollsters to identify whether DeSantis or others pose a serious threat.
In perhaps his most direct jab at DeSantis yet, the former president reposted a video on his Truth Social site this week in which former Fox News host Megyn Kelly confidently predicted that Trump would come out on top in a contest against DeSantis. Kelly clashed repeatedly with Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, both as a debate moderator and prime-time commentator, but in the video Trump shared, he suggested the former president’s base is firmly behind him his.
“Do you really think MAGA stalwarts are going to ditch Trump for DeSantis? They’re not. They like DeSantis, but they don’t think it’s his turn,” Kelly says in the clip, adding that “Trump’s loyalty is unwavering. [and] if they’re forced to choose, they’ll choose Trump.”
While some Republicans agree with Kelly, others are looking for new blood, exhausted by Trump’s endless legal battles and the media spectacle surrounding him.
Those close to DeSantis say he is content, for now, to let his electoral performance speak for him. As of mid-October, two political committees behind his re-election effort had spent more than $80 million trying to engineer a lopsided victory that would further bolster his resume and deliver an overwhelming mandate for his agenda.
But in conversations with donors, DeSantis allies say he is far less dismissive these days when asked about a White House bid six months ago, something Trump allies have pointed out to him and they have irritated him even more.
“People are always talking, wondering about the presidential election in the future and all that stuff,” DeSantis said at a rally Wednesday. “People are worried about who’s running the country next because nobody knows who the hell is running the government now.”
During the campaign, the Florida governor has been testing beta messages that could set him apart in a presidential primary with or without Trump as a competitor. He has touted his record on the economy, his handling of the pandemic and his battles with corporations, Big Tech and school districts over “woke ideology.” Some say the more he can lean on his successes as governor, the less likely he is to draw comparisons to Trump, even as he mimics elements of the former president’s political style, from his hand gestures to to his public war in the media.
“If I were to warn him, I’d tell him to ignore that stuff. You’re Ron DeSantis 1.0, not anything 2.0,” said Adam Geller, a former Trump campaign pollster and Republican strategist.
But Trump, who rallied voters in the state of DeSantis on Nov. 6, two nights before the election, serves as a reminder of how easily he still leads GOP voters. Among Republican operatives in Florida, the timing and location of Trump’s event has raised eyebrows. There are considerably more competitive Senate battlegrounds than Florida, where Rubio is favored to defeat Democratic Rep. Val Demings, and neither party has committed significant resources to the state in the final weeks of the race.
In announcing the visit, Trump again claimed credit for DeSantis winning the governor’s mansion through “a historic red wave for Florida in the 2018 midterms” with the “slate of candidates endorsed up and down the vote” of the former president. But Trump also preemptively seized on DeSantis’ re-election, saying he had “turned the Sunshine State into the MAGA bastion it is today.”
A person briefed on the matter said the prospect of a Florida rally was first raised during a phone call between Trump and Rubio after the Florida Senate debate earlier this month. Since the rally is being organized by Trump’s political operation, any effort to implicate DeSantis would likely have come from within the former president’s orbit. But that didn’t happen, according to several sources familiar with the matter.
“The senator and President Trump discussed holding a rally in Florida, as he is doing for Senate races across the country,” said Elizabeth Gregory, a spokeswoman for Rubio’s campaign.
Miami is also home to several vibrant Latino communities that shifted to the right under Trump and have continued to trend red in the two years since he left office. Trump will land in the city just before Republicans are poised for their best showing in Miami-Dade County since Jeb Bush won a second term in 2002.
A Florida-based Republican consultant said he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.
“We’ll possibly see Florida Republicans win Miami-Dade County, and it’s pretty clear that Trump is trying to go down there to take credit,” the consultant said.
DeSantis’ campaign did not ask to join Trump’s rally program once it was announced, a source told CNN.
Like Trump, DeSantis has also sought to give greater meaning to Florida’s transformative shift from a purple battleground to a reliably red state. He told supporters Wednesday that a big victory on Election Day “will send a strong message, I think, across the country to governors in our own party” to follow his example in their states.
But any tension over who deserves credit for engineering that success is unlikely to matter until after Nov. 8, said Tim Williams, a former Florida GOP campaign strategist.
“In terms of midterm tests, that’s a train that’s coming so fast that this Trump-DeSantis fight isn’t going to get in the way,” Williams said.