The rhetoric between the two likely Republican frontrunners in the 2024 presidential race is heating up.
As former President Donald Trump focuses on possible criminal charges, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken the chance to draw a contrast between himself and the former president, even though he hasn’t announced his candidacy yet.
“I have what it takes to be president and I can beat (President Joe) Biden,” DeSantis said, indicating he is likely to jump in the race.
Whether he is setting the stage for 2024, or trying to catch up to Trump in the polls, DeSantis has started taking jabs at Trump, including in a recent interview with Piers Morgan, snippets of which appeared in a New York Post column.
Other possible and declared Republican candidates — including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — have been hesitant to criticize the former president.
Meanwhile, Trump has focused most of his attacks on DeSantis.
Trump took to Truth Social to respond to DeSantis’ interview with Morgan, saying DeSantis is “too busy chatting with a Ratings Challenged TV Host from England, (and) desperately trying to rescue his failing Campaign,” while Trump is fielding off the “radical Left lunatics, Persecutors and unfair Prosecutors who want to destroy us all.”
In another post, Trump said that “(DeSantis) should take a look at his Polls, which are crashing like few people have seen before. That’s because he’s merely an average REPUBLICAN Governor who has great Public Relations, far better than deserved.”
This type of division in the party is common ahead of the 2024 presidential primary, Republican consultant Doug Heye told Al Jazeera.
In his interview with Morgan, DeSantis said he would have approached COVID-19 differently than Trump did. For one, he said he would have fired Dr. Anthony Fauci, who led the U.S. task force overseeing the pandemic.
“I think he got way too big for his britches, and I think he did a lot of damage,” he said.
As for the nickname “Ron DeSanctimonious,” the Florida governor said: “I don’t know how to spell the sanctimonious one. I don’t really know what it means, but I kinda like it. It’s long, it’s got a lot of vowels,” he said, adding, “I mean, you can call me whatever you want, just as long as you also call me a winner”
Before the interview with Morgan, DeSantis took a swipe at Trump over payments to Stormy Daniels, saying, “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.”
Then during the interview, DeSantis drew a distinction over their governing styles. “So, the way we run the government, I think, is no daily drama, focus on the big picture and put points on the board, and I think that’s something that’s very important,” he said.
As of Wednesday evening, Trump was on a posting spree on Truth Social, attacking DeSantis by listing out statistics for where Florida stands compared to the rest of the U.S.
“On Education, Florida ranks #39 in Health & Safety in the Country, #50 in Affordability, and #30 in Education & Childcare, HARDLY GREATNESS THERE!” he said in one of the six posts.
He also jumped on DeSantis’ coronavirus remarks, saying the onus of the decision-making fell on the governors. “For COVID Death Rates Per State, Ron, as Governor of Florida, did worse than New York,” Trump said.
The response to DeSantis’ interview wasn’t entirely favorable. As Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator, said on Twitter, “Republicans are fine with critiques of Trump...so long as they aren’t perceived as lending ammo to the media and the Left.”
Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, wrote on Twitter that DeSantis is finally showing his “true colors.”
Ron DeSantis has finally shown his true colors. An establishment Never Trumper who despises the MAGA base and was faking it the entire time. https://t.co/HwWITDa6R4— Jason Miller (@JasonMillerinDC) March 21, 2023
Some GOP lawmakers sound like they may be starting to take sides in the upcoming race. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, sounded disapproving of Trump’s behavior during an appearance on Glenn Beck’s radio show.
“Look, at the end of the day, you cannot walk away from the fact that the former president clearly paid a porn star off to hush up right before an election. That occurred,” Roy said, per The Hill.