Between Rounds of Golf, Trump’s Searching for the Perfect DeSantis Diss

From a story on by Nancy Cook headlined “Between Rounds of Golf, Trump’s Searching for the Perfect DeSantis Diss”

Holed up at his resort in Palm Beach, Florida, former President Donald Trump spends many mornings golfing and then, in the afternoons, plots his political comeback.

Maybe he’ll shoot videos on policy proposals for his latest presidential campaign. But much of his and his team’s time is spent bemoaning his lack of coverage by Fox News and other cable networks, griping about his 2020 reelection defeat — something he’s very much not letting go — and workshopping new nicknames for his chief rival in GOP politics, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Trump, allies say, seems set on “Ron DeSanctimonious,” even though others around him don’t think it’s a bullseye. Some of the new ideas the former president’s entertained: “Ron DisHonest.” “Ron DeEstablishment.” Or even, “Tiny D.”

His team has spent weeks trying to dig up dirt on DeSantis’s record as governor; his wife, Casey, a former television journalist; his year teaching at a boarding school in Georgia and his record as a member of Congress, including support for raising the US retirement age and partly privatizing Medicare as part of then-Speaker Paul Ryan’s conservative budget plan.

Yet while Trump’s competitors for the nomination — announced and unannounced — spend their time traveling to key primary states, courting wealthy donors and lining up top staff, the former president’s more lackadaisical approach has concerned some allies. He has acknowledged the criticism, telling supporters at recent events that his campaign activity is accelerating and he’s taking the contest seriously.

He’ll be the featured speaker on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, which DeSantis is skipping, and he’ll speak on education policy — an issue closely associated with the Florida governor — in Iowa on Monday.

Deflating DeSantis

Taking down DeSantis before he attains too much momentum and donor cash is a priority for Trump’s allies, who aim to sully the governor enough to dent his poll numbers and support within Republican circles. Two of Trump’s top campaign aides previously worked for DeSantis. One Trump adviser said that in his CPAC speech, the former president will seek to draw a strong contrast with his top rival.

They hope to portray the sitting governor and former representative as the establishment candidate and “Republican-in-Name-Only,” and the former president as the populist outsider — despite his four years in the White House and his familiarity among voters.

If they can deflate DeSantis and the field of rivals remains broad, Trump’s allies believe he can once again win the nomination simply because his longstanding grip on about 30% of Republican voters. Should another three or four people split the remainder, no single candidate would have enough support to challenge Trump until it’s too late.

That was Trump’s strategy in 2016, down to derogatory nicknames for his rivals and efforts to divide the opposition. His intention is to run the same playbook, even if US politics has evolved and a majority of Republicans say they want a different leader for their party. It’s a scenario feared by many GOP donors who believe Trump, who remains deeply unpopular among most Americans, and can’t win another general election against any Democrat.

Former South Carolina governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, an activist investor who opposes corporate environmental, sustainability and governance programs, are the only other declared candidates so far. Along with DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott are among notable Republicans viewed as weighing 2024 campaigns.

Trump leads polling of the GOP field, according to RealClearPolitics. DeSantis is his closest rival. The rest are in single digits.

But Trump and his advisers have been frustrated that the former president isn’t more often in the news cycle. Traditional news organizations — including Fox News, once an ally — largely shun his rallies and appearances, while two sympathetic outlets, NewsMax and One America News Network, aren’t carried by some major cable providers.

Trump’s visit to the site of a disastrous train crash in East Palestine, Ohio, garnered him coverage in major media, though it also drew attention to his administration’s efforts to weaken regulations on freight railroads.

Governor Gears Up

So far, DeSantis and his team have refused to get drawn into any public sparring matches with Trump, preferring instead to promote his gubernatorial record. One DeSantis ally said the team believes the political climate is different than in 2016, when Trump won the election, and that the former president will not be able to again bully his way to the nomination.

DeSantis allies argue the governor’s youth — he’s 44 — and his focus on his accomplishments and his resume will help him withstand the scrutiny of Trump’s opposition researchers and insults from the candidate himself.

“You don’t have to define President Trump. Everyone has made up their mind. I don’t think Ron DeSantis saying anything negative about Donald Trump will change anyone’s mind,” said Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former White House chief of staff.

He recently attended a donor retreat DeSantis hosted in Palm Beach and said he came away impressed by the governor’s emphasis on policy.

“The ‘high road’ strategy is the best chance, and it is what you got,” he said. “All of the Republican candidates will all have the same message: We can do the Trump policies without the Trump baggage.”

DeSantis allies are expected to soon unveil a super political action committee intended to support a campaign, which will allow him to raise more money from donors before an official announcement. People close to DeSantis expect him to declare he’s running in late May or early June, after Florida’s state legislative session.

In the coming weeks the governor will go on tour for his new memoir, published earlier this week, including stops in Texas, California, Pennsylvania and Alabama.

Yet some Republicans worry DeSantis is unproven on the national stage and with independent and suburban voters and national media. He lives in a Florida bubble of his own making, they argue, where all levers of power rest with Republicans and he can safely engage only with conservative media outlets.

Trump, though, is in his own Florida bubble at Mar-A-Lago, where some advisers feel he still spends too much time carping about the 2020 election that he claims, falsely, was stolen from him.

Republicans outside Trump’s orbit say his ongoing obsession with 2020 and his refusal to accept his loss is weighing down the party, contributing to the GOP’s weaker-than-expected results in the 2022 midterm elections — and threatening to derail 2024 as well.

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