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Trump steps up attacks on Ron DeSantis as 2024 showdown brews

Former President Donald Trump is approaching Florida Governor Ron DeSantis with urgent new hostility, rushing to turn the Republican base against its most formidable potential rival in 2024.

Out is “Ron DeSanctimonious,” Trump’s clumsy attempt to make a nickname for himself.

There are growing public floggings on Trump’s Truth Social website branding DeSantis in terms that could repel GOP voters.

“RINO GLOBALIST,” Trump fumed last week, using the pejorative acronym for “Republican in name only.” On Tuesday, he posted twice to draw attention to a 2021 blog post from a site called The Hill Reporter, which allegedly showed a photo of DeSantis with several young women during his brief time as a high school teacher there. over 20 years ago. Trump’s posts questioned, without evidence, whether DeSantis was inappropriate with his female students.

NBC News has not confirmed the authenticity of the photo. DeSantis has not commented on this.

Trump, whose endorsement in 2018 helped then-underdog DeSantis surge through a primary and win the governorship, also called his former ally disloyal.

DeSantis, who has yet to launch a presidential campaign, has not engaged as directly or as explicitly as Trump. But he began to respond with his own thinly veiled insults.

Asked last week about the former president’s attacks on his handling of the Covid pandemic, DeSantis pointed to his own re-election win, a not-so-subtle reminder that voters rejected Trump after one term.

At a press conference on Wednesday, a reporter began to reference Trump’s messages in a question to DeSantis, but the governor cut him off, saying, “I understand you want controversy.”

He then delivered another obvious jab at Trump.

“I spend my time delivering results for the people of Florida and fighting against [President] Joe Biden,” DeSantis said. “I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans.”

Numerous national polls show Trump — the only declared Republican candidate for the 2024 nomination — leading a hypothetically crowded GOP field, with DeSantis firmly established in second place. But a poll released this week by the Club for Growth, a conservative organization that has tangled with Trump, showed DeSantis ahead of Trump in a head-to-head race. Another recent poll in New Hampshire, which is expected to hold the first GOP primary, showed DeSantis with a double-digit lead over Trump and others.

DeSantis’ approval rating is generally high among GOP respondents, including former Trump voters, in these polls. A Republican strategist close to Trump said the former president aimed to define DeSantis quickly and neutralize what he recognizes as a threat.

“People who like Trump haven’t had an unfavorable view of DeSantis because they see him as a Trump supporter,” said the strategist, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. “So what happens as his favor begins to wane due to Trump’s attacks? Do we really think DeSantis will be in a stronger position than he is today? Because it’s quite obvious to me that he has nowhere to go but down.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a former Trump ambassador to the United Nations, is expected to launch a campaign for the GOP nomination next week. Several others, including Sen. Tim Scott, SC, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, are also considering races. All would vie with DeSantis for the votes of Republicans eager to pass Trump.

DeSantis is not expected to decide on his candidacy until the end of the year, after the end of the Florida legislative session. Several operatives from his 2022 re-election campaign remain in his political orbit, perhaps ready to roll out for a White House bid or, in the meantime, a supportive super PAC that could help DeSantis absorb some of Trump’s jabs. answering them on his behalf.

A spokesperson for DeSantis declined to comment Wednesday on Trump or the governor’s immediate policy plans.

A GOP consultant with friends on both sides of the teeming rivalry wondered if Trump’s attacks would bring down DeSantis’ message by stoking the devoted fan base he’s attracted online.

“People are looking for an arc or a trajectory to Trump’s provocations,” said the consultant, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “But it’s more like a sharp boxer to gauge his opponent’s reactions. DeSantis himself has clearly decided to stay out of the back and forth, but the way his substitutes are reacting – and overreacting – is telling. In the age of social media, a candidate simply cannot control the reaction of some of their most vocal supporters, so staying entirely on message is not possible.

For now, though, DeSantis seems content to stick to his not-so-subtle contrasts.

“DeSantis is clearly leaning into [the narrative] that National Republicans have underperformed in recent years as he won historic re-election in Florida,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “Republicans want to win, and right now DeSantis looks like a winner.”

nbcnews Gt

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