Updated Mar 3, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump's 5-part plan to attack DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Trump hold a COVID and storm-preparedness roundtable in Belleair, Fla., in 2020. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump is convinced his attacks on Ron DeSantis are chipping away at the Florida governor's support and confidence, sources and friends familiar with Trump's thinking say.

  • So Trump is planning to amp up the attacks and name-calling in the coming weeks.

Why it matters: Trump believes DeSantis is the only candidate who could last with him in a long, bitter campaign for the 2024 GOP nomination.

  • Trump hopes to scare DeSantis out of running, or at least damage him if he follows through on signs he will enter the race, top sources tell us.

Between the lines: Trump plans to target "Ron DeSanctimonious," as he delights in branding the governor, in five areas. They are:

  1. DeSantis' past support for changes to Social Security and Medicare, including votes as a U.S. congressman to raise the eligibility age for Medicare.
  2. Disloyalty to Trump after he helped DeSantis get elected governor in 2018. Trump also plans to pound DeSantis on likability.
  3. Trump wants to cast DeSantis as a lackey of former House Speaker Paul Ryan. On Trump's social-media site, Truth Social, he attacked Ryan this week as a loser who "couldn't get elected dogcatcher," and said he should resign or be fired as a Fox Corp. board member.
  4. DeSantis' response to COVID is a top Trump target, even though the governor is known for resisting mask mandates. Trump plans to attack DeSantis' caution in the earliest days of the pandemic — and try to fight the issue to a draw. A March 2020 headline in the Tampa Bay Times said: "DeSantis orders major shutdown of beaches, businesses in Broward, Palm Beach." (DeSantis pushes back on this.)
  5. DeSantis took heat for muddled comments, in a Fox News interview last week, about whether to maintain financial and military support for Ukraine. Trump plans to portray DeSantis as wishy-washy on the war, while he toes the MAGA line of cutting aid.

What they're saying: "There’s a pre-Trump Ron and there’s a post-Trump Ron," a Trump confidant said of DeSantis. "He used to be a Reagan Republican. That’s where he comes from. He's now awkwardly trying to square his views up with the populist nationalist feeling of that party."

  • A DeSantis spokesman had no comment on Trump's criticisms.
  • DeSantis told Fox News' Jesse Watters this week that he sees Trump attacks as "background noise": "He used to say how great of a governor I was. And then I win a big victory and all of a sudden, you know, he had different opinions. And so you could take that for what it's worth."

By the numbers: Several polls show Trump gaining momentum in the past month.

  • A Yahoo News/YouGov poll has Trump opening up an 8-point lead (47%-39%), after DeSantis led the former president by 4 in early February.

What we're watching: Team DeSantis believes it's smart to not respond directly to Trump's attacks. But waiting to respond could be risky — and undermine DeSantis' efforts to cast himself as a tough, principled alternative to the former president.

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