Douglas Andrews / November 10, 2022

The Looming Trump-DeSantis Battle

It’s the elephant in the Republican room, and it won’t go away if we simply ignore it.

On Saturday, at a rally in western Pennsylvania, we saw the opening salvo of the battle yet ahead: “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

That’s what former President Donald Trump called his fellow Republican, the wildly successful governor of the Free State of Florida, Ron DeSantis — a man who would days later go on to win his reelection race in a stunning blowout of nearly 20 points.

It was a nasty swipe from Trump, utterly unnecessary and in full violation of Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

Trump, of course, doesn’t do Reagan. The classy, affable Gipper isn’t his style. Trump made his bones in the brass-knuckled world of Manhattan real estate, and he’s never taken any prisoners in the political arena.

So the “DeSanctimonious” comment was a shot across the bow — a warning from the 76-year-old Trump to the 44-year-old governor to wait his turn. Further proof could be seen Tuesday night at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he refused to acknowledge DeSantis’s remarkable victory even while acknowledging the big statewide win of fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, who won his Senate reelection race by 17 points.

“Marco had a fantastic evening at 58 to 41. That’s really — that’s really tremendous,” Trump said, turning heads after DeSantis outperformed Rubio and delivered a rousing victory speech hailing his “win for the ages” and laying out a national message.

Later, Trump belittled DeSantis’s results while touting his own: “Now that the Election in Florida is over, and everything went quite well, shouldn’t it be said that in 2020, I got 1.1 Million more votes in Florida than Ron D got this year, 5.7 Million to 4.6 Million? Just asking?” Funny that he didn’t mention DeSantis’s 59-40 margin, or his own 2020 spread of just 51-48.

On Sunday, the day after his “DeSanctimonious” swipe, Trump had this to say when asked about the prospect of DeSantis running for president in 2024:

I don’t know if he is running. I think if he runs, he could hurt himself very badly. I really believe he could hurt himself badly. I think he would be making a mistake, I think the base would not like it — I don’t think it would be good for the party.

Any of that stuff is not good — you have other people that possibly will run, I guess. I don’t know if he runs. If he runs, he runs.

Trump went on to say that if DeSantis does run, he’ll treat him the way he treated his other fellow Republicans during the 2016 primary. And maybe worse: “I would tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering,” he said. “I know more about him than anybody — other than, perhaps, his wife.”

In that same Fox News interview, Trump also said DeSantis is “a fine guy.” So go figure.

This is it for Donald Trump. It’s 2024 or never again. He believes in his heart — as do tens of millions of his supporters — that the 2020 election was rigged, was stolen from him, and he wants to reclaim the presidency that he believes is rightfully his. Further, he’s given every indication that he’s running, and he wants to clear the deck of any opposition.

As for DeSantis, his stock has never been hotter. He’s almost singlehandedly turned purple Florida solid red. Indeed, in recent years the Sunshine State has registered some 600,000 new Republicans, while the Democrats have registered fewer than 50,000 of their own. And DeSantis’s Tuesday night speech was a stemwinder, as rousing an indication yet that the Florida governor has plans for national office.

“USA! USA!” some supporters chanted. “Two more years! Two more years!” others shouted, in a not-so-subtle call for DeSantis to throw his hat into the ring for 2024. The speech itself is just a bit more than nine minutes long, but it has the “big picture” feel of Reagan’s 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech — only with sharper elbows and a Churchillian throat punch: “We fight the woke in the legislature,” DeSantis intoned. “We fight the woke in the schools. We fight the woke in the corporations. We will never ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die!”

It was an unmistakable battle cry, and it was filled with fightin’ words.

Near as we can tell, there are three ways to avoid an ugly and prolonged and damaging brawl between the Republican Party’s current standard-bearer and its future one. The first would be for Trump to announce that he’s not running in 2024. (Yeah, we know: What are the odds?) The second would be for Trump to invite DeSantis onto the ticket as his running mate for 2024. That too seems unlikely.

Then there’s the third possibility, which Al Cardenas, a former chair of the Republican Party of Florida, has suggested. As the Miami Herald reports:

“Ron DeSantis is 44 years old. He’s been traveling the country, campaigning for candidates for governor and Senate and, for the first time, building up a pretty good Rolodex of IOUs — which is good for him,” Cardenas said. “Donald Trump can’t run for reelection if he wins so, if you’re 44 years old, and you’ve got a pretty good runway, why not be governor for two years and then start running for president two years from now? You’re still gonna be only 47 years old.”

Time is certainly on Ron DeSantis’s side — certainly more so than it is for Donald Trump. But there’s a sense among many Republicans that Trump can’t win again; that while his base is highly committed and highly enthusiastic, it represents considerably less than 50% of the country; and that while Trump can pack ‘em in at a campaign rally like no one else can, he also energizes and mobilizes the opposition like no one else can.

“There are huge pitfalls to Trump 3.0 that would be easily and nearly completely avoided by nominating and electing DeSantis, or any other Republican alternative,” writes National Review’s Rich Lowry, whose magazine has never failed to make clear its Never-Trumpism.

He’s right about the chaos and tumult that another Trump run would inevitably bring with it. But we think he’s dead wrong about today’s Democrats being somehow more accepting of a DeSantis candidacy. Joe Biden has already called him “Trump incarnate.” See how this works?

The modern Democrat Party is as vicious and hate-filled as any in American history. To think that Ron DeSantis or anyone else can somehow avoid its enmity is folly. The Left will eventually ramp up the hate machine regardless of who the next Republican nominee is. It’s only a matter of time.

In this respect, perhaps the best thing about Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis is that they’re both great counterpunchers. Because they’ll need to be.

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