Trump-DeSantis Rift Grows, With Dueling Rallies in Florida
"The Republican Party’s top two stars are campaigning, separately, in the midterms’ last days.
SUN CITY CENTER, Fla. — Former President Donald J. Trump hasn’t endorsed Gov. Ron DeSantis this year because, as he has explained, his fellow Floridian never asked. Mr. DeSantis didn’t attend the Trump rally on Sunday in Miami, his allies said, because he wasn’t personally invited.
Bruised egos are commonplace in politics. But rarely has a rift at the top of a party spilled so fully into view at such a pivotal moment. At a rally on Saturday night in Latrobe, Pa., Mr. Trump bestowed one of his signature nicknames on Mr. DeSantis: Ron DeSanctimonious.
Their escalating tensions took center stage on Sunday, with dueling campaign rallies in Florida just two days before voting concludes in the 2022 midterm elections. Mr. Trump campaigned in South Florida with Senator Marco Rubio and other Florida Republicans, while Mr. DeSantis made his case for re-election during a set of events along the state’s west coast.
Mr. Trump didn’t repeat the taunt on Sunday, and Mr. DeSantis didn’t mention the former president at his events, but the collateral damage from their impasse looms as a distraction for their party in the final days of the midterms and could threaten deeper divisions among Republicans as they aim to recapture the White House in 2024.
“Nothing like trashing a Republican Governor 4 days before Election Day when his name is on the ballot. #team,” Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist and former campaign manager for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Trump has been telling supporters, both publicly and privately, that he will announce another presidential bid soon. Mr. DeSantis is widely viewed as the leading alternative for the Republican nomination, speculation fueled by his raising a staggering $200 million to support his re-election bid (including about $90 million unspent) and running a nationalized campaign in which he attacks President Biden more often than his Democratic challenger, former Representative Charlie Crist.
Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis are the most popular politicians in the refashioned Republican Party: the 76-year-old former host of “The Apprentice” and the 44-year-old lawyer who has positioned himself to take over as master.
The former president has long claimed a kind of ownership stake in the rise of Mr. DeSantis, who was a relatively anonymous backbencher for six years in Congress when his underdog campaign for governor in 2018 was lifted by Mr. Trump’s endorsement.
But Mr. Trump’s generosity carries a price, and he has repeatedly expressed bewilderment that Mr. DeSantis hasn’t displayed a satisfactory amount of loyalty, according to people close to the former president.
Mr. Trump has been particularly irritated by the separation Mr. DeSantis has created between them, from criticizing the Covid-19 vaccines developed during the Trump administration to endorsing Joe O’Dea, the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado, just days after the former president criticized him.
Mr. Trump has been privately testing derisive nicknames for Mr. DeSantis with his friends and advisers, including the put-down he used on Saturday. Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, appeared to test-drive the nickname for the former president on Oct. 27 when he used it in a post on Mr. Trump’s social media website, Truth Social.
Mr. Trump has expressed reluctance over criticizing the Florida governor too aggressively before the midterms. But some people close to him said the decision to cast Mr. DeSantis as hypocritically pious solidified itself after the governor’s team released a video Friday aimed at infusing his candidacy with a sense of the divine.
The 96-second black-and-white video, which invokes God 10 times, was fashioned after a famous “So God Made a Farmer” speech in the 1970s by the radio broadcaster Paul Harvey.
The original speech, which Ram Trucks reused in a Super Bowl commercial in 2013, was aimed at highlighting the importance of farming. Mr. DeSantis’s version, posted by his wife, Casey, promotes his political brand.
“And on the eighth day,” a deep-voiced narrator says in Mr. DeSantis’s video, “God looked down on his planned paradise and said: ‘I need a protector.’ So God made a fighter.”
The video seemed aimed at turning Mr. DeSantis into an object of veneration, much as Mr. Trump has for some time been viewed by many Christian nationalists and other fervent supporters as an almost messianic figure.
Mr. Trump, who was in Pennsylvania on Saturday to support a slate of Republican candidates, casually dropped the new epithet into his speech while pointing out his wide lead over Mr. DeSantis in early polls of a hypothetical Republican primary field.
A branding magnate who has affixed his family name to everything from cuts of steak to lines of clothing, Mr. Trump used a pair of giant TV screens flanking the stage at his rally to display a half-dozen slides of poll numbers that underscored his political strength among Republicans.
In Florida, Mr. DeSantis has downplayed talk about a potential presidential bid, but he pointedly refused to say during a debate with Mr. Crist whether, if re-elected, he would serve all four years.
Mr. DeSantis scheduled 13 rallies across Florida between Friday and Monday, including three on Sunday, leaving some Republican candidates in the awkward position of having to choose whether to campaign with the governor or the former president. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott were in Miami, as were seven members of Congress. Jimmy Patronis, the state’s elected chief financial officer, introduced Mr. DeSantis at the campaign stop in Sun City Center.
Mr. DeSantis devoted much of his hourlong speech to about 500 people at a community hall to his response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He made sure to point out that his pandemic policies separated him from Democrats — and even some Republicans.
“As a leader, I need to be more concerned about jobs for the people I represent than worrying about my own,” Mr. DeSantis said.
After the event, Mary Bishop, a 73-year-old retiree from Sun City Center, said she was upset that Mr. Trump had attacked Mr. DeSantis. She said she had voted twice for Mr. Trump but preferred Mr. DeSantis in 2024.
“We need someone who can bring us together and doesn’t constantly divide the races and religions,” she said. “It’s always the same playbook with Trump.”
In Miami, Mr. Trump praised at length “the wonderful” Senator Marco Rubio, calling him a friend and saying the people of Florida would re-elect him.
“You’re going to re-elect Ron DeSantis as your governor,” Mr. Trump added.
That was the only mention of his potential 2024 rival in his 90-minute, grievance-filled speech, during which Mr. Trump blasted Democrats as soft on crime and boasted about Hispanic voters shifting toward the Republican Party.
“I will probably have to do it again,” he said about seeking the presidency in 2024, “but stay tuned.”
At the Trump rally, Lainie Guthrie, 57, of Royal Palm Beach, said that Mr. DeSantis should have attended the rally with the former president. Mr. Trump, she said, should “be able to finish” what he started in his first term.
“He was doing a great job for our country, whether people like him or not,” Ms. Guthrie said. “He’s entitled to run again. That’s owed to him.”
In Pennsylvania on Saturday, Mr. Trump’s attack on Mr. DeSantis drew a mix of laughs and groans from the crowd. “Oh no!” shouted one woman.
Jess Rhoades, a 38-year-old university employee from Blair County, Pa., left her first Trump rally on Tuesday energized by the experience but conflicted over how she would choose between her two favorite Republicans.
“I don’t know what I’d do,” she said.
Michael C. Bender reported from Sun City Center, Fla., and Patricia Mazzei from Miami."