Ron DeSantis snipes at Trump for first time as presidential campaign gets underway
Ron DeSantis is openly attacking former President Donald Trump for the first time as a spent force who has veered away from staunch right-wing policy stands.
The GOP presidential rival, who is seeking to bounce back from a glitch-plagued campaign launch, has accused Trump of going soft on hot-button issues like abortion, immigration and the so-called “war on woke.”
”He’s attacking me from the left,” DeSantis said. “That really wasn’t the Donald Trump from 2015 and 2016.”
DeSantis says he is puzzled that Trump has dinged him for signing a strict six-week ban on abortion in the Sunshine State, a key priority for Christian conservatives.
He also claims to be more conservative than Trump on immigration, pointing out that he voted against a failed Trump-backed compromise that included both a border wall and a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children.
“If Trump built the wall, why isn’t there a wall on the border right now?” asked Christine Pushaw, a top DeSantis aide.
DeSantis also defended his much-criticized war with Disney, the family-friendly corporation that is Florida’s No. 1 taxpayer. He blames the Mickey Mouse company for opposing his “Don’t Say Gay” law restricting discussion of gender identity.
“The former president, he’s taken Disney’s side in this,” DeSantis said on the Newsmax network. “Don’t take the side of a multinational corporation that wants to sexualize kids.”
The sharp-tongued salvos against Trump mark a clear break from DeSantis’ rope-a-dope strategy of mostly ignoring Trump in the past several months.
DeSantis may have hoped to avoid driving away Trump’s legion of loyal MAGA supporters by skipping the head-on attacks.
But Trump has given him little choice by lobbing a non-stop series of harsh personal and political attacks at DeSantis since the former president launched his comeback White House campaign late last year.
Trump has consolidated his position as the most popular and powerful figure in the party, with polls showing him winning more than half the vote in a hypothetical GOP primary matchup.
Republican voters have rallied around Trump as he faces ever-more serious legal woes.
DeSantis, who was once locked in a close race with Trump, has fallen into a distant second place with about 20% support. Other announced and potential candidates, including Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence are mired in single digits.
DeSantis is mounting a campaign blitz on right-wing media after he was widely mocked for his glitch-marred launch announcement on Twitter.
He claims to have scored an impressive $8 million windfall in donations although critics say the campaign may have coordinated donors to give the impression of an enthusiastic response to his launch.
DeSantis’ basic strategy has remained unchanged for months: He hopes to convince GOP primary voters that he is just as conservative if not more so than Trump, without the former president’s personal baggage.
His aides believe Trump will eventually be knocked out of the race or badly wounded by the more serious legal threats still to come, opening the door to DeSantis as his sole serious challenger.