In a clash of political titans, the simmering feud between former President Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has ignited into a full-blown war as they vie for dominance in the nascent Republican presidential primary. The animosity between the two men was palpable as they traded barbs at separate campaign events held over 1,000 miles apart. After DeSantis took a swipe at Trump by suggesting it would require eight years in the White House to accomplish certain goals, the former president swiftly fired back, rhetorically asking, “Who the hell wants to wait eight years?”
Trump, speaking in Urbandale, Iowa, didn’t mince words, stating, “When he says eight years, every time I hear it I wince because I say, if it takes eight years to turn this around, then you don’t want him. You don’t want him as your president.”
Not one to shy away from confrontation, DeSantis responded to Trump’s remarks later in the day with a cutting remark of his own, quipping, “Why didn’t he do it his first four years?”
This exchange serves as a mere glimpse into the bitterness that has enveloped the once-allied politicians as DeSantis embarks on his presidential campaign. Although the Florida governor still trails Trump in most public polls, the former president has been clear for months that he is ready to engage in a fight, launching preemptive attacks on DeSantis even before his official entry into the race.
On his part, DeSantis made it evident last week that he will not passively endure incoming criticism, asserting that if he comes under attack, he will “counterpunch” and fight back. “I am gonna fight back on it,” DeSantis stated. “I am going to focus my fire on Biden, and I think he should do the same. He gives Biden a free pass.”
Thus far, none of the GOP contenders have experienced direct attacks from either Trump or DeSantis, with the Florida governor maintaining a comfortable lead over other candidates. Trump clarified why he is specifically targeting DeSantis, stating, “This is a war of a certain kind, and what you do is, generally speaking — the person that’s in second place, you go after that person as opposed to the person in eighth or ninth place.”
The conflict between Trump and DeSantis has transcended mere verbal jabs, as evidenced by the presence of a “Team DeSantis” bus parked outside Trump’s event in Urbandale, courtesy of the pro-DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down. Additionally, allies and staffers for both candidates have engaged in increasingly acrimonious exchanges online. Trump’s campaign spokesperson posted a photo of the allegedly broken-down Never Back Down bus, which prompted DeSantis’s rapid response director to retaliate by sharing a photo of the spokesperson standing outside the bus, sarcastically remarking that he wished he could hitch a ride.
While some Republicans view the feud between Trump and DeSantis as inevitable, given the former president’s history of combative campaigns and DeSantis’s reputation for standing up to criticism, others have been taken aback by the rapid escalation of the conflict. A Republican strategist supporting DeSantis’s presidential bid commented, “Obviously Trump was never going to cut DeSantis any slack, but I kind of expected him to wait a while to start hitting back at him. It was going to happen sooner or later, but I think the DeSantis folks came to the conclusion that the longer he waited, the harder it would be.”
Some welcome the battle, seeing it as an opportunity for the GOP and its various factions to address their differences, especially in the aftermath of a lackluster midterm election cycle that saw many Republicans lose their races despite a favorable political environment. “I will say this: I don’t think it’s ever bad for a political party to have a good, robust primary fight,” commented Dallas Woodhouse, a veteran Republican operative.
However, the feud carries potential consequences for both candidates and the GOP’s quest to reclaim the White House in 2024, as it increases the risk of either man emerging from the primary bruised and battered. Republican strategist Ford O’Connell observed, “Obviously, getting into the ring with Trump was a risk to begin with. I think that if this does get too bloody, you may wind up ruining the chances of both.”