WASHINGTON — A once-unseen primary battle is finally starting to come into focus: Ron DeSantis is battling Donald Trump.
After months of fending off frequent attacks from Trump, DeSantis used this week’s post-announcement tour of the contest’s early states to applaud the frontrunner who has widened his lead over the Florida governor and other Republican candidates. these last months.
“I think his conduct — which he’s been doing for years now — I think is one of the reasons he’s not in the White House now,” DeSantis told the radio host. Jack Heath on a tour of New Hampshire, site of the first Republican primary. .
For months, Trump has taken little offense to DeSantis and other Republican candidates, most of whom don’t want to alienate his large mass of grassroots voters.
Now it’s on, at least as far as DeSantis is concerned. He made that very visible in a string of talk show hits after his announcement and this week’s trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the states that will host the first Republican delegate contests in 2024. .
Trump also made it clear that he would maintain an aggressive stance against any candidate who dares to criticize him — especially DeSantis, who is his closest competitor in a variety of Republican polls.
Asked about the size of the Republican field, Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity: “That’s a good thing, isn’t it? I think it’s pretty good. But I don’t think not that it matters. I don’t know why people do it.”
DeSantis: counter punch
Before officially becoming a candidate, DeSantis avoided responding to Trump’s frequent barbs, calling them “background noise” and saying he was focused on his job as governor of Florida.
Now that he’s in the running to stay, DeSantis said he had no choice but to respond to Trump when asked.
“So listen, I’m going to respond to the attacks,” DeSantis told reporters in Iowa. “I’m going to counter strike and I’m going to fight on it.”
DeSantis is more reticent about Trump on the stump. As he did during the “invisible campaign” earlier this year, he does not mention Trump by name in campaign speeches, but makes negative references to his record and legal status.
For example, DeSantis says he will need two terms – eight years – in the White House to fully address the problems created by bureaucracy and big government. “It really takes two terms as president to be able to finish this job,” DeSantis said in the stump speech he repeated throughout his recent trip.
The “two-term” riff also refers to the fact that Trump, having already served one term as president, could only hold the post for four years if re-elected in 2024; the Constitution limits presidents to only two terms.
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DeSantis also lamented a “culture of defeat,” a reference to the fact that Trump and his MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) movement have fared less well in three consecutive national elections.
DeSantis also made subtle references to the infighting and chaos that marked Trump’s presidency, as well as the investigations looming over the former president.
“If we get distracted, if we allow the election to be about anything other than Biden’s failures … then we risk seeing a Democratic sweep in 2024,” DeSantis said in his stump speech.
Trump: Always on the attack
Trump’s campaign approach has been anything but subtle and has intensified since DeSantis began hitting back.
For months, he launched a steady stream of attacks on DeSantis’ record and personality. Last week, Trump questioned DeSantis’ consistent use of the word “woke,” even though he’s also used the term to criticize programs aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion in businesses and schools.
Trump has mocked DeSantis about his dusting off with a reporter and even the pronunciation of his name, saying the candidate sometimes calls him “Dee-Santis” and other times “Duh-Santis.”
DeSantis described the search as “ridiculous” and “dumb” and replied, “Listen, how do you pronounce my last name? Winner.
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Trump has been quite courteous to fellow naysayers who have been reluctant to criticize him, a group that includes former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and current South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott. He was also respectful of former Vice President Mike Pence, who is expected to announce his 2024 candidacy next week.
The favorite has been venomous for opponents who have faced him, be it DeSantis or longshots Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson.
Tough fight for Trump’s rivals
DeSantis and other Republicans running against Trump have their work cut out for them — he enjoys big poll leads at this point.
Patrick Murray, director of the independent polling institute at Monmouth University, said “DeSantis started taking it”, while most of the other candidates “were pretty much indifferent – a light touch”.
“None of them are making a difference in the race right now,” Murray said.
According to a Monmouth University poll this week, 43% of GOP-aligned and leaning voters named Trump as the candidate they would like to see as the Republican nominee in 2024.
Only 19% nominated DeSantis, down from 39% in a similar poll in December.
“DeSantis lost ground before he even got out of the starting grid,” Murray said. “Republican voters still love him, but they haven’t heard a compelling argument as to why he would be the party’s best option.”
The campaign dynamic could change if Trump faces more indictments, though they could just as well shift in his favor.
Trump’s numbers actually rose after a grand jury in New York indicted him for trying to conceal silent money payments to two women.
The former president remains under investigation on three other fronts: his handling of classified documents, his efforts to reverse his loss of Georgia to Biden in the 2020 election and his possible culpability for the insurgency. of January 6, 2021.
More indictments could make him stronger, Murray said, as many Republicans resent what they see as a Democratic attempt to bring down Trump through the court system.
“Most of Trump’s support is built around grievance politics,” Murray said. “No politics.”
While attacking DeSantis, Trump also tried to convince voters that the investigations are all political, laying the groundwork to defend against future indictments.
“It has to do, more than anything else, with trying to interfere with the election,” Trump told Hannity.
A better opportunity for DeSantis might be the debates — if Trump attends.
The former president has hinted that he might skip the Republican debates because there’s no point appearing on stage with opponents when he’s so far ahead.
The debates would give DeSantis his best chance to draw the contrasts with Trump that he is just beginning to draw on the campaign trail.
The debates tended to benefit Trump during the 2016 campaign as opponents were reluctant to attack him.
This time around, Republican political consultant Liz Mair said DeSantis in recent days “attacked Trump more than any candidate other than Carly Fiorina or Rand Paul in the first few months of the 2016 contest.”
DeSantis’ approach was “pretty good for this stage of the contest,” Mair said. “He needs to find some really good beards for the debates, though.”
Republicans plan to hold a first debate Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, the site of the 2024 GOP nominating convention.
This will all play out for some time.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, another potential candidate, told Fox News this week “we’re still months away from the first debate,” let alone the actual vote.
“We’re still waiting to see who can throw a punch and take a punch,” he said, “who can win it on the court, door to door.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How DeSantis is battling Trump in the 2024 presidential race