I did not think the inevitable Trump/DeSantis war would start this early.
And I cannot believe it’s going to be about Donald Trump being too much of a COVID hawk.
The post-Trump GOP was supposed to be an improvement over what preceded it, wasn’t it?
Trump threw the first punch at DeSantis a few days ago without naming him, attacking politicians who won’t clearly say whether they’ve had a booster shot as “gutless.” The only politician who’s been conspicuously evasive about that in the media recently is DeSantis. The governor returned fire in the podcast interview below when asked what he thought his biggest mistake on the job had been. He doesn’t blame Trump directly for the push for a national lockdown, naming Fauci instead, but the implication is clear: Trump let the public health brain trust lead him around by the nose instead of showing them who’s boss.
And he does name the former president in a related context. “I was telling Trump, ‘Stop the flights from China,'” DeSantis boasts at one point. Trump being Trump, he’s not going to appreciate DeSantis trying to take credit for the travel ban he imposed. In fact, if you believe media reports, DeSantis not giving Trump enough credit for his political success is a chronic sore spot for 45.
Skip to 31:00 for the Q&A. The angry Trump statement responding to this should be an all-timer.
To hear DeSantis tell it, while the White House was succumbing to a lockdown frenzy, he was chill and business-as-usual in the free state of Florida. Is that right? Here are two headlines, both dated March 20, 2020:
DeSantis has done a stellar job at asserting himself as the most anti-restriction Republican politician in all the land, with some justification. He kept Florida’s schools open while kids in most other states were languishing in remote learning. But it’s not true that Florida’s policies are the most hostile to COVID precautions of any state; Texas, for instance, bars private companies from mandating vaccinations for employees, a step DeSantis hasn’t taken. (To his credit.) And it’s not true that Florida never had a lockdown, as the headline above reminds us. Kristi Noem has been keen to remind Republican voters that only one governor never issued a stay-at-home order and it ain’t DeSantis.
Perhaps Trump will soon be reminding Republican voters of that too. He’s started jabbing at DeSantis partly out of jealousy of the governor’s rock-star anti-restriction cred with the GOP base, I assume, but reportedly too due to what he perceives as a lack of due deference:
He wants DeSantis to kiss the ring and say, “Of course I won’t run in 2024 if you do, Godfather.” DeSantis must be aware of that, yet he continues to refuse to say it. How come? Is he actually thinking of challenging Trump, or is it just alpha-male pride leading him not to defer until he absolutely has to?
I’m tempted to write a hot take that ackshually Trump and DeSantis are coordinating this entire feud behind the scenes in order to give Trump a pretext to sound more reasonable about COVID. He’s pro-vaccine and (slightly) more willing to condone restrictions than DeSantis is. Swing voters are gonna love him in 2024! Strategist David Mark:
“This was going to ravage the country far beyond what it is now,” Trump said of the success of the vaccines during his December appearance with O’Reilly in Texas. Trump implored his supporters: “Take credit for it. Take credit for it. Don’t let them take it away. Don’t take it away from ourselves.”
Those remarks weren’t just vintage Trump braggadocio. They’re likely also smart politics, as they provide an opening to win back some suburban voters that fled from him toward Biden in 2020. Sixty-seven percent of suburban residents were vaccinated as of August, according to a late summer NBC News poll. That was below the 79 percent of urban residents who got the vaccine, but well above the 52 percent of rural residents, where support for Trump runs deep. Even Biden gave credit to the Trump administration for the development of the Covid vaccine and for getting a booster shot.
I don’t really believe Trump and DeSantis are coordinating, of course. As a Twitter pal said, Trump is too “feral” to game out the politics that way. He’s jabbing at DeSantis because he feels threatened and DeSantis is jabbing at him because he suddenly sees a lane to Trump’s right on COVID policy. Words can’t express how depressing it is that Trump being vocally pro-vaccine might become the most significant liability for him in a Republican primary but DeSantis rightly sees weakness there and is looking to fill that political space. He’s worked hard over the past six months to ingratiate himself to anti-vaxxers in subtle and less than subtle ways, and now Trump has handed him an excuse to draw a distinction between them in which DeSantis is more closely aligned with populist opinion than Trump is. I’m dying to see where this goes.