Inside the Rivalry Brewing Between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis

Black-and-white images of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis over red background

Getty Images / KCM

The Florida governor joins the ranks of “Little Marco” Rubio and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

The country is gearing up for the midterm elections on Tuesday, but those aren’t the only showdowns to keep an eye on. Over the weekend, Donald Trump turned up the heat on Florida governor Ron DeSantis, potentially signaling a contentious struggle for the GOP primary nomination.

Trump unveiled a new insult for DeSantis

On Sunday, both Trump and DeSantis held rallies throughout the Sunshine State. The former president held a “Get Out the Vote” rally for Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott in Miami, while the Florida governor made stops in three cities — Hillsborough, Sarasota, and Lee. Insiders told Politico Trump’s team didn’t even invite DeSantis, a snub one Republican consultant with knowledge of the event’s planning called “stupid.” 

“Why not try and avoid the appearance of the fight?” the consultant told Politico, adding, “But in their defense, I don’t know that he would have come even if he was invited.”  

But the tensions were brewing before the Florida tours, and they came to a head a day earlier, on Saturday when, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump called DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious.” When he made the jab, Trump was reciting supposed poll numbers for the Republican presidential nomination, saying that he’s far more popular than the Florida governor. “Trump at 71, Ron DeSanctimonious at 10 percent. Mike Pence at 7 percent — oh, Mike’s doing better than I thought,” he said. The insult could signal that Trump sees DeSantis as a threat — in previous elections, he regularly made headlines for the nicknames he would give his political opponents, such as “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” (who was later upgraded to “Beautiful Ted”), “Little Marco”, and “Crooked Hillary.”  

The move was met with some backlash among conservatives. “Trump’s attacks on DeSantis are going to have a boomerang effect,” said Fox news contributor Joe Concha. Other prominent right-wingers called it a “dumb nickname” and “inexcusable,” and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted in support of the Florida governor.

Allies no more

In 2018, Trump campaigned for DeSantis, calling him “a tough, brilliant cookie” and “my great friend.” Some of Trump’s supporters believe his endorsement was critical for DeSantis’s win.

“Trump’s team made DeSantis,” outgoing Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini told Politico. Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesperson, said the former president “reshaped Florida’s electoral politics.”

Four years later, and while their reps haven’t publicly confirmed any bad blood, their relationship appears to have soured. In late October, DeSantis endorsed Joe O’Dea, a Colorado Senate candidate who is outspoken against Trump and told Meet the Press, “I don’t want to see him run again” and told CNN he would “actively” campaign against him. Trump called DeSantis’s support for O’Dea “A BIG MISTAKE!!” on Truth Social.

Could DeSantis beat Trump in the primary? 

Several polls have DeSantis at a double-digit lead over his gubernatorial opponent, Charlie Crist. But when it comes to a presidential primary, his odds are less certain.

Although some Republican donors see DeSantis as the “de facto frontrunner for president,” it remains to be seen whether he could beat out Trump, though the latter may be losing popularity. A July poll of over 1,000 registered voters conducted by NewsNation Now found that 57 percent of total voters did not want Trump to run for president again, and 26 percent of Republican voters said someone else should run. If not Trump, 23.4 percent of Republican respondents said that DeSantis should run in 2024. (More than 60 percent of respondents and 30 percent of Democrats said Biden shouldn’t seek reelection in 2024, either.) Meanwhile, a New York Times/Siena College poll found that just under half of the 350 Republican voters surveyed (49 percent) would vote for Trump in the primary, and 25 percent would vote for DeSantis.

Still, 65 percent of NYT/Siena College respondents with a college degree said they would vote against Trump in a political primary, with nearly one in five saying his actions on January 6, 2021 went too far and “threatened American democracy.” A September survey found that 48 percent of Florida Republican voters would vote for DeSantis in a hypothetical presidential primary, with 40 percent saying they’d vote for Trump. And Republican mega-donor Ken Griffin told Politico “it’s time to move on” from Trump.

Despite being pit against each other, to some, the two politicians are not all that different. At a recent Democratic fundraiser in Florida, President Biden said DeSantis is “Donald Trump incarnate”. The Financial Times called him “Donald Trump with brains and without the drama.”

Technically, neither Trump nor DeSantis have officially announced their campaign. DeSantis, however, has not refused to run against Trump and dodged a question in a recent debate asking if he intended to serve a four-year term, indicating he may have his eye on the White House. 

Meanwhile, Trump has been teasing another bid at the presidency practically since he left the White House and recently told a crowd in Texas that he will “probably have to” run again. Multiple outlets report that Trump is rumored to make an official announcement on Nov. 14, after the midterms.