(As originally published with bells and whistles, Mon, January 17th 2022, 4:33 PM EST)
PALM BEACH, Fla. (WPEC) – They’re two of the most popular Republicans in the country, but things may not be so lovey-dovey between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former president-turned-Florida resident Donald Trump, according to multiple published reports.
Both are considered potential 2024 presidential candidates, or using another word, rivals.
Neither is the type to express regrets in public but last week, DeSantis went on the “Ruthless” podcast to say one of his biggest regrets since taking office three years ago was not speaking out “much louder” against Trump at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, it was in March 2020, when Trump advised Americans to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“I never thought in February, early March, that (coronavirus) would lead to locking down the country,” DeSantis told the hosts. “I just didn’t. I didn’t think that was on the radar.”
CNN detailed DeSantis going along with Trump, closing Florida schools, government buildings, gyms, bars and restaurant dining rooms and advising Floridians to stay home.
But according to CNN reports from November, DeSantis questioned whether banning flights from China was effective.
“I was probably the first governor in January of 2020 to call for travel restrictions from China. I supported President Trump when he did that,” DeSantis said. “But we have to take a step back and acknowledge that those travel restrictions just didn’t work.”
DeSantis — as almost everybody knows — has since positioned himself as the “freedom” governor in the “free” state of Florida. (The Free State is no longer exclusively Maryland.)
The governor has made Florida free from vaccine mandates, free from children having to wear masks in school, free to go to school in the first place and free from lockdowns for businesses.
In his State of the State Address, which opened the 2022 legislative session, he spoke of Florida standing “as freedom’s vanguard” and that the state “fought back against unconstitutional federal mandates.”
DeSantis even prepared for the session by proposing the Freedom First budget.
The legislature now has proposals to keep religious institutions open and allow for families to visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes. The reason is there had been issues in Florida at the beginning of the pandemic.
Both of those bills follow a special legislative session last fall that adopted laws to provide workers opt-outs to any vaccine requirements.
As for Trump, Axios has been reporting on its sources who’ve recently talked to the former president about Florida’s governor. The consensus, according to Axios, is that Trump is trashing Ron DeSantis in private. Axios says Trump called DeSantis an ingrate with a “dull personality” who has no realistic chance of beating him if they both run for president in 2024.
Trump has not said whether he’ll run again in 2024, and his silence on that is keeping most Republicans from announcing whether they will run.
Several are on the record as saying they will not run if Trump does, and that they’d support a Trump campaign. Count Florida Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott in that category, according to Axios.
So, who hasn’t already stepped down in case Trump tries for term number two? There’s his former vice president, Mike Pence, who on the day of the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, announced the results of the electoral college vote rather than taking steps to overturn the 2020 election. Axios reports others are former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
Oh, and there’s also DeSantis.
The Axios sources say DeSantis’ popularity and his refusal to rule out running against him bother Trump. A poll among Republicans in September decided DeSantis was their number one pick for president — if Trump doesn’t run.
At the time, DeSantis was asked point-blank whether he was preparing to run for the White House.
“All the speculation about me is purely manufactured,” DeSantis said. “I just do my job. We work hard. Obviously, our state has led on a lot of things, including on this (monoclonal antibody treatment) now. Other states are copying us. But that’s what it’s really all about, just helping folks here. I hear all this stuff and, honestly, it’s nonsense.”
And the Axios sources say DeSantis not giving an answer really bothers Trump.
One says about Trump, “In the context of the 2024 election, he usually gives DeSantis a pop in the nose in the middle of that type of conversation.”
Last April, Trump said DeSantis “would be considered” as his 2024 running mate if he runs. Trump called DeSantis a “friend” and a “great guy,” and that when running for governor in 2018, “I endorsed Ron and after I endorsed him he took off like a rocket ship.”
Boy, things have changed.
An Axios source said Trump thinks “there’s no way” DeSantis would be governor without Trump’s endorsement.” The source added Trump said something to the effect of: “What’s the big deal? Why won’t he just say he’s not going to run against me?”
A second source told Axios Trump “says DeSantis has no personal charisma and has a dull personality.” What’s more, Trump has criticized DeSantis on multiple occasions, and Trump makes a point of saying he isn’t worried about DeSantis as a potential rival. Axios added, a Trump spokesman didn’t comment about that.
Just last week, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman tweeted, “Trump has been telling a range of aides a version of, he isn’t getting the deference from DeSantis that he wants in the pre-2024 leadup.”
DeSantis is 43 years old, just three years older than Trump’s oldest child, his daughter Ivanka. Donald Trump is 75.
Also last week, Trump called politicians who wouldn’t reveal whether they got the COVID booster “gutless.” Trump got the booster, admitted he did and got booed by a crowd of supporters for saying so.
Axios only mentioned DeSantis among the politicians who weren’t showing their cards. Mediaite recalls DeSantis telling Maria Bartiromo in December, “I’ve done whatever I did, the normal shot.”
It says in April, DeSantis’ office confirmed the governor got the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine but by October, just before the FDA approval of booster shots for people who’d received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, DeSantis refused to say whether he’d get a booster shot.
Forbes reported a trend of DeSantis softening his support of vaccinations, “sometimes to the point of outright skepticism.”
On getting a booster, Forbes says his spokeswoman told the Orlando Sentinel the governor planned to make “the right choice for him,” which “is not necessarily the right choice for everyone.”
When asked for clarification, she said she did not have “details to share about the governor’s personal medical decisions.”
In the face of tragedy — last June’s Surfside condo collapse — former Republican campaign strategist Mac Stipanovich, called DeSantis “less frightening than Trump” to some voters even as he steadily courts the former president’s base.
Still, Trump has not attacked DeSantis by name.
In the podcast, DeSantis continued blaming a popular Republican target — the media — for reports of tension between Trump and him.
“I think this is what the media does,” DeSantis explained. “You cannot fall for the bait … You know what they’re trying to do, so just don’t take it. Just keep on keeping on. We need everybody united for a big red wave in 2022. We’ve gotta fight the left, and not only fight, but beat the left. And that’s what we’re doing in Florida.”
If DeSantis has higher ambitions, he has a test of his political ability coming up a lot sooner than 2024. He’s running for re-election in 2022 and a loss would be a significant setback to his political career.