This prompted an explosive response from Florida’s governor.
“Kevin McCarthy says I’m a little different from Donald Trump. I agree,” DeSantis posted on social media Monday. “In Florida, we run budget surpluses. We have paid off our debt. I kept every one of my promises. Meanwhile, McCarthy and Trump worked together to add $7 trillion — more debt than our country accumulated in its first 200 years — to the debt in just four years.
The attack on McCarthy takes DeSantis back to his own political roots, as a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus — a group that is now a key focal point of opposition to McCarthy and his proposed spending-cut deal. POLITICO reported last week that DeSantis spoke by phone with several members of the group, including representatives. Chip Roy, Thomas Massié And Bob good — and urged them to “keep fighting” through their impasse over efforts to keep the government open.
“This is an opportunity for Governor DeSantis to identify with the base of the Republican Party and implicitly challenge President Trump to do the same,” said Justin Sayfie, a partner at the lobbying firm Ballard Partners who raised the money for DeSantis.
For DeSantis, the feud provides him with some talking points on the campaign trail, including bragging about how he handled his home state and bolstering his image as an anti-Washington candidate. It comes as DeSantis has faced increasing scrutiny from Republican donors and a lagging campaign operation that has had to be reset repeatedly.
It also gives him a way to address conservatives’ possible fears about certain elements of Trump’s record. The former president has a sizable lead in the polls and so far his opponents, including DeSantis, have largely been reluctant to criticize him for where his record in office deviated from hard-right orthodoxy, including including his lax approach to government spending.
“Right now, you unfortunately have a large number of members of the House Republican Party who are, frankly, too afraid to take on Trump,” said Roy, who is one of the few members of Congress to support DeSantis .
But some DeSantis supporters didn’t like that McCarthy fought back. Roy said he considered McCarthy’s dig at DeSantis a “dud,” saying “he shouldn’t get into” comparing DeSantis to Trump.
“He has his work cut out for him to lead the House,” he said.
Congressional Republicans who supported Trump, however, pushed back against DeSantis.
representative Greg Steube (R-Fla.) said DeSantis didn’t have many connections on the Hill — most of the Florida delegation, including Steube, supported Trump — and Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.) said he didn’t understand why DeSantis would oppose McCarthy.
“If I were him, I think I would root for President McCarthy,” Rutherford said. “I think he’s doing a good job leading this conference, and (DeSantis) was a part of the conference when he was here. He knows Kevin well.
A small irony in all of this is that some Republicans credit DeSantis with helping to flip the House in 2022 to GOP control, albeit by a razor-thin majority. Republicans in Florida and across the country praised DeSantis after the midterms for relying on the GOP-controlled state Legislature to approve congressional redistricting maps that helped Republicans to gain four additional seats in Congress.
Absent such an outcome in Florida, McCarthy, whose staff did not immediately respond to requests for comment, would likely not speak at all.
DeSantis, his critics say, has also not been as concerned about savings as he suggests. Steube pointed out that Florida is constitutionally obligated to balance its budget every year and said “the country would be fine” if the same were true at the federal level. And DeSantis also rejected 2021 Sen. Rick Scott(R-Fla.) is calling on governors to return federal pandemic relief funds, instead using that amount of money to pay for his own priorities — often with great fanfare.
Scott hesitated, however, when asked about it in Tallahassee on Monday. “I gave people the opportunity to give money back to the federal government and they can choose to do that or not,” he said.
Mia McCarthy contributed from Washington, D.C., and Gary Fineout contributed from Tallahassee.