The Trump-DeSantis rift is growing, with dueling rallies and name-calling

The Trump-DeSantis rift is growing, with dueling rallies and name-calling

SUN CITY CENTER, Fla. – Former President Donald J. Trump did not endorse Gov. Ron DeSantis this year because, he explained, his fellow Floridian never asked. Mr. DeSantis did not attend Trump’s rally in Miami on Sunday, his allies said, because he was not personally invited.

Damaged egos are a common occurrence in politics. But rarely has the rift at the top of the party come out so fully at such a crucial time. At a rally Saturday night in Latrobe, Pa., Mr. Trump gave Mr. DeSantis one of his signature nicknames: Ron DeSanctimonious.

Their escalating tensions took center stage Sunday, with campaign rallies in Florida just two days before voting closes in the 2022 midterm elections. Mr. Trump campaigned in South Florida with Senator Marco Rubio and other Florida Republicans, while Mr. DeSantis made his case for re-election during a series of events along the state’s west coast.

Mr. Trump did not repeat the taunt on Sunday, and Mr. DeSantis has not mentioned the former president at his events, but collateral damage from their impasse looms as a distraction for his party in the final days of the midterms and could threaten to further divide Republicans as they aim to retake the White House in 2024.

“Nothing like bashing a Republican governor 4 days before election day when his name is on the ballot. #team,” wrote Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist and former campaign manager for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader. Twitter.

Mr. Trump has been telling his supporters, publicly and privately, that he will soon announce another presidential bid. Mr. DeSantis is widely seen as the leading alternative for the Republican nomination, speculation fueled by his raising a staggering $200 million to support his re-election bid (including about $90 million unspent) and by running a nationalized campaign in which he attacks President Biden more often than not. his Democratic challenger, former Rep. Charlie Crist.

Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis are the most popular politicians in the reformed Republican Party: the 76-year-old former host of “The Apprentice” and the 44-year-old lawyer who positioned himself take over as master.

The former president has long claimed a kind of ownership stake in the rise of Mr. DeSantis, who was a relatively anonymous backstop in Congress for six years when his outsider campaign for governor in 2018 was abolished with the approval of Mr. Trump.

But Mr. Trump’s generosity comes at a price, and he has repeatedly expressed bewilderment that Mr. DeSantis has not shown a satisfactory amount of loyalty, according to people close to the former president.

Mr. Trump has privately tested derisive nicknames for Mr. DeSantis with his friends and advisers, including the put-down he used on Saturday. Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, appeared to test the former president’s nickname on Oct. 27 when he used it in a post on Mr. Trump’s social media website, Truth Social.

Mr. Trump has expressed reluctance to criticize the Florida governor too aggressively ahead of the midterm elections. But some people close to him said the decision to brand Mr. DeSantis as hypocritically pious was cemented after the governor’s team released a video on Friday aimed at injecting a sense of the divine into his candidacy.

The 96-second black-and-white video, which invokes God 10 times, is based on the famous “So God Made the Farmer” speech in the 1970s by a radio station. Paul Harvey.

The original speech, which Ram Trucks used again in a 2013 Super Bowl commercial, was intended to highlight the importance of agriculture. Version of Mr. DeSantis, published his wife Casey, promotes his political brand.

“And on the eighth day,” says the deep-voiced narrator in Mr. DeSantis’ video, “God looked at his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a protector.’ That is how God created a fighter.”

The video seemed aimed at making Mr. DeSantis an object of reverence, just as Mr. Trump has for some time been viewed by many Christian nationalists and other zealots as an almost messianic figure.

Mr. Trump, who was in Pennsylvania on Saturday to endorse a slate of Republican candidates, casually dropped the new epithet into his speech, highlighting his wide lead over Mr. DeSantis in early polls of the hypothetical Republican primary field.

A branding mogul who has put his family name on everything from steak cuts to clothing lines, Mr. Trump used a pair of giant TV screens surrounding the stage at his rally to show a half-dozen slides of poll numbers that underscored his political strength among Republicans. .

In Florida, Mr. DeSantis played down talk of a potential presidential run, but it was emphasized refused to say during a debate with Mr. Christ on whether, if re-elected, he would serve all four years.

Mr. DeSantis scheduled 13 rallies across Florida between Friday and Monday, including three on Sunday, leaving some Republican candidates in the awkward position of choosing whether to campaign with the governor or the former president. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott were in Miami, as were seven members of Congress. Jimmy Patronis, the elected state finance officer, introduced Mr. DeSantis at a campaign event at Sun City Center.

Mr. DeSantis devoted much of his hour-long speech to about 500 people in the community hall on his response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He made sure to point out that his pandemic policies have alienated him from Democrats – and even some Republicans.

“As a leader, I have to worry about the jobs of the people I represent more than I worry about my own,” Mr. DeSantis said.

After the event, Mary Bishop, a 73-year-old retiree from Sun City Center, said she was upset that Mr. Trump attacked Mr. DeSantis. She said she voted for Mr. Trump twice but preferred Mr. DeSantis in 2024.

“We need someone who can bring us together and not keep dividing us by race and religion,” she said. “It’s always the same book with Trump.”

In Miami, Mr Trump lavished praise on the “wonderful” Senator Marco Rubio, calling him a friend and saying the people of Florida would re-elect him.

“You’re going to re-elect Ron DeSantis as your governor,” Mr. Trump added.

That was the only mention of his potential 2024 rival in his 90-minute complaint-filled speech, during which Mr. Trump criticized Democrats as being soft on crime and boasted about Hispanic voters turning to the Republican Party.

“I’ll probably have to do it again,” he said of running for president in 2024, “but stay tuned.”

At the Trump rally, Lainie Guthrie, 57, of Royal Palm Beach, said Mr. DeSantis should have attended the rally with the former president. Mr. Trump, she said, should “be able to finish” what he started in his first term.

“He’s done a great job for our country, whether people like him or not,” Ms Guthrie said. “He has the right to run again. It is owed to him.”

In Pennsylvania on Saturday, Trump’s attack on Mr. DeSantis drew a mixture of laughs and groans from the crowd. “Oh no!” one woman shouted.

Jess Rhoades, a 38-year-old university employee from Blair County, Pa., left her first Trump rally on Tuesday energized by the experience but conflicted about how to choose between her two favorite Republicans.

“I don’t know what I would do,” she said.

Michael C. Bender they reported from Sun City Center, Florida, and Patricia Mazzei from Miami.

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