(CNN) — On Election Day in Florida, Donald Trump will vote for the Republican whose political downfall he may soon be plotting.
Months after Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he would support Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election bid, it appears increasingly likely that the former president and his home state’s governor will face off in a hotly contested 2024 presidential primary. campaign, both took steps in the final days of the 2022 cycle to establish themselves as team players and high-impact men, facing off against each other for those purposes.
“We have a break with Trump. Big surprise,” said a source close to the DeSantis campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “It’s no secret that things are frozen in between [Trump y DeSantis] now. They don’t hit each other, but we don’t help them, nor do they help us.”
The rivalry, which existed largely behind the scenes, exploded into public view this week after DeSantis recorded a robocall endorsing Republican businessman Joe O’Dea, an outsider in the Colorado Senate race who earlier this month pledged to “actively campaign” against Trump if he ran for third. presidential candidacy. While the Florida governor has endorsed other Republican candidates in the midterms, none have been as outspokenly critical of Trump as O’Dea.
The move was not lost on the former president, who spent months complaining to aides about DeSantis and ramping up claims that he would easily defeat the governor in the Republican primary.
“BIG MISTAKE!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform about DeSantis endorsing O’Dea. Three days later, Trump announced plans for a rally in South Florida with the state’s top senator, Marco Rubio. DeSantis was not invited, a source told CNN.
The first signs of strain in Trump’s relationship with DeSantis began last fall amid the Florida Republican’s growing popularity and thinly veiled criticism of Trump’s COVID-19 policies as president.
Despite efforts by both men’s allies to ease tensions, their strained relationship has lasted for months and now appears to be escalating as Trump prepares an ad for the post-2024 midterm campaign and DeSantis heads toward the election. re-election with potentially historic Florida Hispanic support.
“Trump must be concerned because DeSantis has built an unprecedented base in the Hispanic community,” said the Florida-based Republican consultant.
DeSantis has also spent the past year making inroads with wealthy Republican donors and laying the groundwork for a possible 2024 campaign launch next year, according to allies, some of whom have said he doesn’t want to rush his potential entry into what is likely to be a crowded primary. It was these open steps towards a candidacy for the White House that angered the former president the most.
Days after Trump criticized the Florida governor for endorsing the Colorado Senate race, DeSantis committed another cardinal sin in the former president’s eyes when he once again refused to rule out a presidential run if Trump is the nominee. During a debate against his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, DeSantis refused to commit to serving a four-year term if re-elected, remaining silent as his opponent repeatedly raised the issue. Privately, Trump allies gloated over the debate and questioned DeSantis’ ability to withstand a debate against Trump.
“DeSantis did well in the race he’s breaking,” said a Republican operative who worked with both men. “It’s a completely different game when he’s on stage with Donald Trump. Trump has a very effective way of getting under people’s skin, especially on the debate stage.”
Other Republicans dismissed such conclusions as premature — even unfair — given DeSantis’ clear lead in the re-election race and Trump’s inimitable debate style.
“I don’t think that debate was important at all,” said Brian Ballard, a Florida-based Republican consultant with close ties to both Trump and DeSantis.
“Donald Trump on the debate stage is the most unique political animal in 100 years. He decimated them all [en 2016]Ballard added. “I think Ron DeSantis can hold his own against anybody, but Donald Trump is his own character.”
“They don’t think it’s their turn”
For months, Trump has worked to make himself the automatic favorite in the disputed 2024 primary, while asking his pollsters to identify whether DeSantis or others pose a serious threat.
In perhaps his most direct attack on DeSantis yet, the former president reposted a video on his Truth Social page this week in which former Fox News host Megyn Kelly confidently predicts that Trump will come out on top in the race against DeSantis. Kelly sparred with Trump repeatedly during his 2016 presidential campaign, both as a debate moderator and prime-time commentator, but in a video shared by Trump, she suggested the former president’s base remains solidly behind him.
“Do you really think that hardcore MAGA will reject Trump for DeSantis? They didn’t. They love DeSantis, but they don’t think it’s his turn,” Kelly says in the video, adding that “Trump’s loyalists are adamant. [y] if forced to choose, they will choose Trump.”
While some Republicans agree with Kelly, others are looking for new blood, exhausted by Trump’s endless legal battles and the media spectacle surrounding him.
Those close to DeSantis say for now he is content to let his electoral performance do the talking. By mid-October, the two political committees behind his re-election had spent more than $80 million trying to secure a landslide victory that would further bolster his resume and give him an incredible mandate for his agenda.
But in conversations with donors, DeSantis allies say he’s far less dismissive these days when asked about a White House run than he was six months ago, something Trump’s allies have pointed out to him, which is all the more irritating.
“People are always talking, wondering about the presidential election in the future and all that,” DeSantis said at Wednesday’s rally. “People are worried about who will run the country next because nobody knows who the hell is running the government now.”
During the campaign, the Florida governor tested messages that could set him apart in a presidential primary with or without Trump as the running mate. He touted his record on the economy, his handling of the pandemic and his battles with corporations, Big Tech and school districts over the “ideology of awakening.” Some say the more he can lean on his accomplishments as governor, the less likely he is to draw comparisons to Trump even as he mimics elements of the former president’s political style, from hand gestures to a public war with the media.
“If I were to advise you, I would tell you to ignore these things. You are Ron DeSantis 1.0, not nothing 2.0,” said Adam Geller, a former Trump campaign pollster and Republican strategist.
Trump’s preemptive rally in South Florida
But with Trump rallying in the DeSantis state on Nov. 6, two nights before the election, it serves as a reminder of how easily he still dominates Republican voters. Among Florida Republican operatives, the timing and location of Trump’s event drew attention. There are far more competitive Senate battlegrounds than Florida, where Rubio is the favorite to beat Democratic Rep. Val Demings and neither party has committed significant funding to the state in the final weeks of the race.
In announcing the visit, Trump once again took credit for DeSantis’ victory in the governor’s mansion via “a historic red wave for Florida in the 2018 midterms,” with the former president’s “confirmed slate of candidates” on the ticket. But Trump also preemptively seized on DeSantis’ re-election, saying he “turned the Sunshine State into the MAGA stronghold it is today.”
A person familiar with the matter said the possibility of a gathering in Florida was first brought up during a phone call between Trump and Rubio after a debate in the Florida Senate earlier this month. Since the rally is being organized by Trump’s political operation, any attempt to include DeSantis would likely come from outside the former president’s orbit. However, that did not happen, claim several sources familiar with the matter.
“Senator and President Trump have discussed holding a rally in Florida, as he does for Senate races across the country,” said Elizabeth Gregory, a spokeswoman for Rubio’s campaign.
Miami is also home to several vibrant Hispanic communities that have shifted to the right under Trump and have continued to turn red in the two years since he left office. Trump will land in the city just before Republicans make their best showing in Miami-Dade County since Jeb Bush won a second term in 2002.
A Florida-based Republican consultant said he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.
“We’re probably going to see Florida Republicans win Miami-Dade County and it’s pretty clear that Trump is trying to get there to take credit,” the consultant said.
DeSantis’ campaign did not ask to join Trump’s rally program after it was announced, a source told CNN.
Like Trump, DeSantis also sought to give greater prominence to Florida’s transformational shift from a purple battleground to a reliably red state. On Wednesday, he told his supporters that a landslide victory on Election Day would “send a strong message, I think, to the governors of our own party across the country” to follow suit in their states.
But any tensions over who deserves credit for engineering that success likely won’t matter until Nov. 8, said Tim Williams, a former campaign strategist for the Florida Republican Party.
“As far as the colloquium goes, it’s a train that’s approaching so fast that this Trump-DeSantis feud is not going to get in the way,” Williams said.