Former President Donald Trump attacked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and said he reminds him of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, as Trump tries to define DeSantis before a possible matchup in the Republican presidential primary.

Trump attempted to define DeSantis as a fiscal conservative who has tried to reform Social Security and Medicare, while DeSantis has said he does not want to “mess” with Social Security.

The former president made the comments while campaigning in Iowa on Monday. DeSantis is polling well in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Trump continues to step up his attacks on the Florida governor, who is his biggest competitor for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.

DeSantis has yet to announce a run for president, but is expected to in the next few months.

In addition to comparing him to Romney, Trump called DeSantis a “disciple” of former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was Romney’s 2012 running mate. He said Ryan was a “RINO” who “constantly voted against entitlements.”

“Paul Ryan is a big reason that Mitt Romney — I’m not a big fan of Mitt Romney — lost his election,” Trump said to a crowd in Davenport, Iowa. “And to be honest with you, Ron reminds me a lot of Mitt Romney so I don’t think you’re going to be doing so well here. But we’re going to find out.”

Trump also attacked DeSantis for his past positions on ethanol mandates, a big issue for Iowa farmers, and for his votes on Social Security when he served in Congress. Trump claimed DeSantis wanted to “decimate” government welfare programs.

“I will not be cutting Medicare or Social Security,” Trump said. “And we’re leaving the age limit.”

However, DeSantis said earlier this month that Republicans are “not going to mess with Social Security.”

Are Romney and DeSantis similar?

Trump referenced Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential general election as an indication that DeSantis “won’t do very well here.” But Trump didn’t mention that Romney nearly won that year’s GOP presidential caucuses in Iowa. He garnered over 24% of the vote and was only 34 votes shy of finishing in first place.

Romney’s office did not respond to the Deseret News’ request for comment for this article. The Utah senator has made it clear he will not support Trump in the 2024 presidential race but has not said who he would support.

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Romney and DeSantis have both called for entitlement reform. While serving in Congress, DeSantis voted to raise the retirement age to 70. CNN also reported that in 2012 DeSantis expressed support for Ryan’s budget proposal that would have partially privatized Medicare.

“I would embrace proposals like Paul Ryan offered, and other people have offered, that are going to provide some market forces in there, more consumer choice, and make it so that it’s not just basically a system that’s just going to be bankrupt when you have new people coming into it,” DeSantis told the St. Augustine Record in 2012.

Last year, Romney published an op-ed after the midterm elections calling for both parties to address the “entitlement crisis” in order to rein in federal spending.

He said reform is an inevitability, while also saying, “some mix of changes to revenues, benefits and eligibility is necessary along with a promise that no program will be eliminated and current and near-retirees won’t be affected.”

DeSantis’ response to Trump’s attacks

DeSantis was asked Monday evening by Fox News host Brian Kilmeade about Trump labeling him as a Ryan or Jeb Bush-style Republican. Bush is the former governor of Florida and a 2016 presidential candidate.

DeSantis shook his head before responding.

“When you have a record of achievement, people can call you a name but that’s not going to trump the achievements,” he said.

Regarding his reputation among voters, DeSantis said he should be defined by his record as governor. “I’m defined by my accomplishments. I’m defined by leading this state, and I’m defined by having a state which is the number one destination for Americans who are looking for a better way of life.” 

DeSantis has not yet announced a formal campaign for president, but political insiders expect him to after the Florida legislative session ends in May. DeSantis has hinted at using the state legislative session to help people see him “doing” rather than talking about political positions.

“I think what you’ll see over the next few months — by doing — is the best thing I can possibly do, not only for this state, but for the people looking at me and sizing me up,” he said.