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Trumpworld goes for blood after Ron DeSantis ‘listless vessels’ comment

“Basket of deplorables”, meet the “listless vessels” of Maga.

Donald Trump’s latest bid for the Republican presidential nomination — so far, on course to end in the exact same manner, with his nomination — just gave the American voting public another taste of nostalgia for the 2016 race. Speaking with a right-wing Floridian news outlet, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has firmly remained in second place behind Mr Trump in polling of the 2024 GOP field, took one of his first real swings at Trumpworld.

“So there will be people who are huge Trump supporters, like in Congress, who have incredibly liberal left-wing records that is really just atrocious, and yet they're viewed by some of these folks as like, really, really good. Then you have other people, you know, like a Congressman Chip Roy, who has endorsed me, Congressman Thomas Massie. These guys have records of principle, fighting the swamp that are second to none. And yet, they will be attacked by some of these people and called RINOs. So it's just been totally detached from any type of substance,” Mr DeSantis told the Florida Standard.

Clearly referencing Mr Trump, Mr DeSantis continued: “And ultimately, a movement can't be about the personality of one individual. The movement has got to be about what are you trying to achieve on behalf of the American people? And that's got to be based in principle.”

“If all we are is listless vessels that’s just supposed to follow, you know, whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning, that’s not going to be a durable movement,” Mr DeSantis finished.

And so began a weekend social media firestorm that left the DeSantis campaign swinging at the only target he has ever shown a willingness to sustain any real offensive against – the media, which he blamed for supposedly misreporting the substance of his remarks. A press release was issued, with the subject line “The Dishonest Media Refuses to Report the Facts”, blaming reporters for supposedly piling on the governor’s campaign and accusing him of referring to Trump supporters as “listless vessels”.

“The dishonest media refuses to report the facts — Donald Trump and some congressional endorsers are ‘listless vessels’,” complained the governor’s press secretary.

In reality, it was the Trump campaign — led by the Trump family members themselves — leading that charge against him and claiming that Mr DeSantis had been referring to Trump voters, not Mr Trump’s congressional allies. The latter has been a sore subject for Mr DeSantis, who has floundered trying to explain why his own home state’s congressional delegation has largely rebelled against him and declared their allegiances for Mr Trump in the ongoing primary battle.

In case the parallels between Mr DeSantis’s comment and Hillary Clinton’s now-famous 2016 “basket of deplorables” comment weren’t apparent, Donald Trump Jr helpfully provided an image of Ms Clinton with the governor’s face photoshopped over hers. During the 2016 campaign, Ms Clinton infamously said half of Mr Trump’s supporters would fit into a “basket of deplorables”, prompting backlash from his fans.

Kari Lake, the failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate now thought to be angling for a Senate bid or to link up as Mr Trump’s running mate in 2024, also joined the pile-on.

The only media organisation to actually devote any significant amount of coverage to the comment was Fox News, which used numerous segments over the weekend to pick apart the governor’s words with guests like Rep Nancy Mace. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Trump loyalist network angling against him, given the network’s previous glee in confronting him over his low poll numbers.

If anything, Mr DeSantis’s choice to go after the media instead of the Trump campaign in the wake of his latest scuffle with the Republican frontrunner emblemises one of the main problems with his campaign: The governor appears unable or unwilling to go after his rival directly and make the argument why Mr Trump should not be president.

It’s not yet clear how much of the GOP primary voter base will hear about the governor’s remarks, though the wall-to-wall Fox coverage certainly makes it more likely that the perceived insult will spread. Ms Clinton’s comment in 2016 followed her for months, throughout the general election and beyond, as the Trump campaign used it with the hopes of convincing on-the-fence Trump voters that Democrats held personal animosity or disgust towards them.

Ms Clinton was famous for her off-the-cuff remarks being weaponised against her in 2016. In another noted instance, her complaint during a video address to union members that she should be “50 points ahead” of Mr Trump was seen as emblematic of a sense of being entitled to the position of president that stuck like tar to the Clinton campaign through the Democratic primary and general election season.

Mr Trump has sought a direct conflict with his second-place rival for months, attacking him openly in speeches and statements. However, he has declined the opportunity to face the Florida governor and his other GOP rivals like Chris Christie onstage at the upcoming GOP primary debates, arguing that his polling dominance make the televised events pointless.