In a statement of remarkable vitriol and length, former President Trump lashed out Thursday at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose commanding re-election win on Tuesday has, according to some political observers, catapulted him to front-runner status in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
In a preview of what could be a brutal contest for the nomination between the two men, Trump called DeSantis “an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations,” arguing that the 44-year-old former congressman was “politically dead” when he first sought Trump’s endorsement in 2017, which the then-president tendered via Twitter.
The withering post comes a day after President Biden was asked, at the second press conference of his presidency, what he thought about the prospect of facing off against either DeSantis or Trump in 2024. The president seemed amused. “It'd be fun watching them take on each other," he answered.
Twenty-four hours later, he got a preview. Neither Trump nor DeSantis has said he is running in 2024. For that matter, Biden has not said he is seeking re-election; he is expected to announce his decision early next year.
Trump has been infuriated by DeSantis’s unwillingness to say unequivocally that he would step aside so that Trump could challenge Biden for a second time. In his Thursday night statement, he criticized DeSantis for his “loyalty and class.” In his view, the Republicans’ newest star remains a wholly Trumpian creation.
After Trump endorsed him, DeSantis went on to win the Republican primary, before narrowly defeating the Democratic candidate, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, in the general election (Trump referred to Gillum as a “Crack Head” in his statement, a reference to the former mayor’s struggles with substance abuse).
DeSantis became a conservative celebrity by resisting coronavirus lockdowns, school closures, masking orders and vaccine mandates. According to Trump, however, DeSantis's success in fighting COVID-19 — which has been just as heavily criticized as it has been praised, given that 82,000 people in Florida died from the disease — had largely to do with a factor outside anyone’s control: the weather.
Florida “has the advantage of SUNSHINE, where people from badly run States up North would go no matter who the Governor was, just like I did!,” Trump wrote, referencing his own move to the Mar-a-Lago country club he owns in Palm Beach after the conclusion of his presidency.
Referring to DeSantis throughout the statement as “DeSanctimonious,” a nickname Trump unveiled last week at a Pennsylvania rally for the Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz, who went down to defeat, the former president’s anti-DeSantis screed was posted on Truth Social, his social media site.
In recent months, Trump has watched DeSantis become a darling of establishment conservatives, who relished in his ability to launch Trump-style culture wars without Trump-style drama. The savvy DeSantis had largely stayed out of Trump’s way, tamping down speculation about his own prospects, but an eventual confrontation between mentor and understudy had been widely seen as inevitable.
It just wasn’t expected quite soon.
Trump’s anger appears to have been precipitated by the growing conviction that the Republican Party needs to move beyond the 45th president if it wants to elect the 47th in 2024. DeSantis won re-election with far greater ease than most observers had expected, besting Democratic candidate Charlie Crist by 19 points while earning strong support in formerly blue redoubts in South Florida.
Meanwhile, Senate candidates Trump had backed, including Oz and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, both lost. So did Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate in New York.
After DeSantis’s commanding win, the New York Post — a tabloid Trump has avidly read for decades — deemed him “DeFuture,” then mocked Trump the next day as “Trumpty Dumpty,” all but blaming him for destroying the Republican Party.
The newspaper is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a Republican kingmaker who also owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Those outlets’ coverage also skewed heavily in favor of DeSantis — a development Trump did not fail to notice. His statement opens with a broadside against News Corporation, Murdoch’s media company.
“NewsCorp, which is Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and the no longer great New York Post (bring back Col!), is all in for Governor Ron DeSanctimonious,” Trump wrote, referencing former New York Post editor Col Allan, who was the target of sexual harassment allegations.
On Tuesday, Trump also threatened revelations “that won’t be very flattering” about DeSantis, should he run for president.
A spokesperson for the DeSantis re-election campaign did not return a Yahoo News request for comment.