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A Trump/DeSantis primary would be so, so fun.
For Never Trumpers, I mean. For most of the base, it would be agony. Populists would divide into two camps and the dispute would turn bitter instantly, with Trumpers accusing DeSantis fans of treason and DeSantis fans accusing Trumpers of cultishness. Righties who’ve spent the past six years on a sustained RINO hunt would suddenly discover to their horror that they’re the RINOs now.
It’d be amazing to watch that from the outside. Especially if DeSantis prevailed and the world’s biggest sore loser began egging on his fans not to vote in the November election.
I think we’re going to get that primary too, especially if DeSantis wins big this fall. And thanks to President Inflation, the odds of that happening get better every day.
Which is why, if Trump wants a glide path to the nomination, he and his cronies can’t afford to wait until next year to start going in on DeSantis. If DeSantis waltzes to reelection, he may gain enough momentum from that win that he can’t easily be stopped in a national primary. The time to wound him is now, driving down his margin in Florida in November and leaving populist Republicans to wonder if his alleged electability advantage over Trump is less than it’s cracked to be.
A few days ago I said that the oppo research operation at Mar-a-Lago must be in overdrive searching for dirt on DeSantis. If there’s anything out there, expect it to emerge in the pages of National Enquirer circa early to mid-October. This New Yorker report about the rise of DeSantis also claims that the effort is under way:
Trump told me repeatedly that he and DeSantis had a “very good relationship,” adding, “I’m proud of Ron.” But others say that, as DeSantis’s popularity grew, tension hardened into resentment. “He won’t kiss the ring,” the political leader who sees DeSantis often told me. After the 2020 election, Trump made Mar-a-Lago his permanent home, but DeSantis rarely showed his face there. He looked busier than Trump, too: as a sitting governor, DeSantis could call a press conference or propose a new initiative anytime, whereas Trump was reduced to appearing on One America News and sending out e-mails…
Trump told me that he was “very close to making a decision” about whether to run. “I don’t know if Ron is running, and I don’t ask him,” he said. “It’s his prerogative. I think I would win.” In nearly every poll of likely Republican contenders, Trump still has a solid advantage: DeSantis’s constituency was Trump’s first. Trump seems to want to keep it that way. A consultant who has worked for several Republican candidates said that the former President had talked with confidants about ways to stop DeSantis: “Trump World is working overtime to find ways to burn DeSantis down. They really hate him.”…
It is possible that the only thing that will complicate DeSantis’s ascent is his own impatience. At forty-three, he can afford to wait. But there is every indication that he doesn’t want to. “Ron has been told for four years that he’s Trump’s successor—that all the women want to sleep with him, and all the men want to be him,” the consultant told me. “Ron has heard way too many times, ‘You’re next.’”
Remember, Mrs. DeSantis is reportedly eager for this fight and DeSantis himself has reportedly told people, “No one’s nomination is inevitable.” A tidbit from an AP story on the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, where Trump spoke a few days ago, caught my eye this weekend because of what it may or may not say about the Republican zeitgeist. A woman who attended the conference wearing a MAGA hat and a “Trump 2020” necklace told the outlet that she’s now in a minority among her conservative friends. “They’re like kind of: ‘Get with the program. Why aren’t you backing DeSantis?’” she said. Hmmmm.
Meanwhile, in the guise of raising money for his state race, DeSantis may or may not also be quietly poaching some of Trump’s biggest donors:
A DeSantis-aligned political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, has received $3.4 million this election cycle from 10 donors who collectively spent $24 million on Trump’s reelection bid. Most of the high-dollar donors had never given contributions in state-level Florida elections, while those who have previously provided funds have significantly increased their spending for DeSantis during the 2022 midterms.
Though many donors are focused on November, when the governor is up for reelection, DeSantis’ fundraising signals that he is both a viable 2024 candidate who may not need the former president’s backing and one who is sapping some financial support from Trump.
“I think Ron’s fundraising really speaks for itself,” said Francis Rooney, a former construction company owner, longtime Republican donor and former Florida congressman who was open to impeaching Trump in 2019. “It is possible Trump’s percentage of the Republicans keeps going down and I think it’s possible people will start looking elsewhere.”
DeSantis’s gubernatorial campaign is the perfect cover for rich Republicans to start buying favor with him without offending Trump. The governor doesn’t need their money, as he has a mind-bogglingly gigantic fundraising lead on his Democratic rivals. He’s raking in the dough not because the Florida race looks tough but because there’s a chance that he runs for president in 2024 while Trump passes; if that happens, the donors to his gubernatorial campaign will have gotten in on the ground floor of a political investment that’s suddenly become tremendously more valuable. Even if Trump runs and defeats DeSantis, those same donors will be forgiven for donating to DeSantis this year since, after all, they’re technically only donating to his bid for governor.
Of course, once Trump and DeSantis are both running for president, each donor will be forced to choose knowing that they’ll make an enemy of the next president if they choose incorrectly. Like I say: Fun, fun, fun. Grudges galore!
I’ll leave you with this WaPo piece about DeSantis’s not-so-secret weapon among Florida voters, the fact that he kept the state and its schools open while others were struggling with grinding COVID lockdowns. DeSantis has already hinted that COVID policy will be a line of attack against Trump if they find themselves facing each other in a primary. He needs ways to get to Trump’s right and convince undecided MAGA voters that he’s the true populist in the race. Imagine Donald Trump losing a national primary for, of all reasons, having been too comfortable with COVID restrictions.