Updated Jan 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Trump dogs "dull" DeSantis ahead of potential 2024 matchup

An illustration shows a hand drawing Z's near Gov. Ron DeSantis' mouth.

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Donald Trump is trashing Ron DeSantis in private as an ingrate with a "dull personality" and no realistic chance of beating him in a potential 2024 showdown, according to sources who've recently talked to the former president about the Florida governor.

Why it matters: The two are among the most popular Republicans in the country, and as the former president eyes another run in 2024, he's irked by DeSantis' popularity and refusal to rule out running against him.

  • DeSantis is a favorite of Republican voters when pollsters remove Trump from the hypothetical 2024 field.
  • The governor also hasn't been beyond tweaking his fellow Floridian.
  • DeSantis said on the "Ruthless" podcast, recorded Thursday, one of his biggest regrets in office was not speaking out "much louder" in March 2020, when Trump advised the American public to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Behind the scenes: "In the context of the 2024 election, he usually gives DeSantis a pop in the nose in the middle of that type of conversation," said a source who recently spoke to Trump about DeSantis.

  • The source, who shared the private remarks on the condition of anonymity, has heard Trump criticize DeSantis on multiple occasions.
  • The source said Trump makes a point of saying he isn't worried about the Florida governor as a potential 2024 rival.
  • "He says DeSantis has no personal charisma and has a dull personality," the source added.
  • A spokesman for Trump did not comment when presented with this reporting.

A second source who's discussed DeSantis with Trump said the reason for the former president's irritation with the popular governor is "that Ron DeSantis won't say he won't run [in 2024]. ... The others have stated pretty clearly they won't challenge him."

  • DeSantis also did not respond to a request for comment.

Between the lines: Several potential 2024 GOP contenders have either ruled out running if Trump does — as his former UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, did — or said they would support Trump if he runs.

  • That's been the case for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
  • Trump has kept a close eye on these statements. He's noticed that two potential rivals in particular have declined to rule out running: DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.
  • Trump seems less bothered by Pence than DeSantis. He's told advisers he thinks Pence's future in GOP politics is over after he abided by the Constitution and refused Trump's request to send electors back to the states on Jan. 6, 2021.
  • Other potential rivals who haven't ruled out challenging Trump include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

The second source said that in Trump's view, "there's no way" DeSantis would be governor without Trump's endorsement.

  • The former president also's said something to the effect of: "What's the big deal? Why won't he just say he's not going to run against me?"
  • The New York Times' Maggie Haberman reported recently that "Trump has been telling a range of aides a version of, he isn't getting the deference from DeSantis that he wants in the pre-2024 leadup."

Trump's private irritation about what he perceives as DeSantis' ungratefulness and willingness to defy him date back several years. Their disputes have ranged over matters as varied as closing beaches during the early days of the pandemic and a public clash over hurricane death statistics — as the Washington Post's Ben Terris and Josh Dawsey detailed in a 2020 story.

  • DeSantis claimed on the "Ruthless" podcast last week that the reports of tensions between him and Trump were a media invention. In the same conversation, he again sidestepped a question about his strength as a potential GOP presidential nominee in 2024.

What we're seeing: Trump's frustrations with DeSantis have been bleeding into his public statements, though he's refrained — so far — from attacking the popular governor by name.

  • During a recent OAN interview, the former president said he'd watched interviews with "gutless" politicians who refuse to say whether they've had a booster shot. "You gotta say it — whether you had it or not," Trump said. "Say it."
  • As Mediaite noted, DeSantis "has refused to say whether he has received the booster shot. 'I've done whatever I did,' he said in December when asked if he'd been boosted. 'The normal shot.'"
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