‘Cheaper than therapy’: Why DeSantis keeps bickering with Trump

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Gov. Ron DeSantis sure seems to be acting like a candidate again — and he’s picking new fights with the most powerful Republican in America.

During a lengthy call last week with more than 200 pledged delegates to his former presidential campaign, DeSantis shot down any speculation that he’d be Donald Trump’s vice president, warned the former president against using “identity politics” in choosing a running mate and blamed Trump’s campaign team for relentlessly attacking him before the governor dropped out of the presidential race in January.

DeSantis held the call the same week he traveled to Indiana and South Carolina, where he pushed for states to back a constitutional amendment setting congressional term limits — a position he constantly mentioned on the campaign trail.

The moves by the governor, including a press conference to trumpet his legislative battles with Disney and a sendoff of Florida National Guard to the Texas border, has once again raised questions about his motives, especially considering that he endorsed Trump for president and criticizes Trump’s rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

“I think he is just very frustrated that no one else is saying these very obvious things and so feels the need to say them himself. Like the boy in ‘The Emperor's New Clothes,’” said Jason Osborne, the New Hampshire House majority leader who backed DeSantis’ presidential bid.

That viewed was echoed by Rob Stutzman, a Republican adviser for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“I question how strategic he's being,” Stutzman said. “I'd lean towards catharsis. Cheaper than therapy.”

It wouldn't come as a surprise if DeSantis mounted another presidential run in 2028. The governor has hinted that he’s open to another bid since dropping out and, during a press conference in Florida on Friday, told an audience that “of course” he would do it all over again.

But his attacks also represent a very consistent characteristic of the governor: Railing against those he perceives to be against him. He regularly bashed political opponents like President Joe Biden and Democrats, punished Disney for publicly opposing legislation accused of being anti-LGBTQ+ community and denounced “liberal” media outlets. The fact that DeSantis is training his broadsides against Trump — and even conservative media outlets — strikes some as DeSantis being DeSantis.

“DeSantis seems to be liberated since the campaign ended,” Stutzman said. “Even toward the end he was a better candidate than he had been, seemingly unburdened by expectations or contorted strategies. I would think his criticisms of Trump and conservative media are sincere.”

After DeSantis’ comments to pledged delegates surfaced, key Trump supporters took direct aim at the governor. Chris LaCivita, a top Trump strategist,called him a “sad little man” on social media. Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that “Ron tucked his tail between his legs and he should have scurried off into the shadows of obscurity.”

And even though Trump floated DeSantis as apossible running mate on Tuesday, the former president’s campaign by Thursday — the day after DeSantis call leaked —closed the door on that option.

DeSantis’s campaign and administration declined to comment.

But DeSantis may have his sights on something much larger than being Trump’s No. 2. POLITICO previously reported that several supporters said they expect him to run for president again and predicted he will start raising money for state-level political activities later in the year.

And one Republican operative who was on DeSantis’ delegate call, and who was granted anonymity to speak freely, suspected that DeSantis is positioning himself to be a Republican option in case Trump can’t continue running this year due to his legal trouble.

“I believe everything you're seeing is part of a concerted effort by DeSantis world to keep the door open in the event that something in the race changes in the coming weeks that takes Trump out — like a criminal conviction and jail or prison sentence,” the operative said.