Former President Donald Trump trashed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday for being too liberal on COVID and vaccine policies as their Republican presidential rivalry starts to heat up.
Taking the gloves off, Trump slammed DeSantis for imposing COVID-19 restrictions in the frightening early days of the pandemic and reminded supporters that he once supported ending most pandemic mitigation efforts by Easter 2020.
“Remember this?” he posted on his social media site. “Some Republican states got it right, Florida got it wrong!”
Deriding the Florida governor as “Ron DeSanctimonious,” Trump accused his leading potential GOP presidential rival of trying to “rewrite history” on COVID.
It’s not surprising that Trump is unloading on DeSantis. Polls show a potentially close race between the two men and DeSantis has steadfastly refused to rule out a challenge to Trump.
Trump spent a big chunk of his first campaign swing over the weekend trashing DeSantis as “disloyal” and taking credit for his ascent to power in the Sunshine State.
“For me, it’s always about loyalty,” Trump said Sunday during a trip to first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire.
But attacking DeSantis from the right on COVID restrictions and vaccines may be a tough sell, especially for Trump, who spent most of his presidency promoting himself as a hero for his Operation Warp Speed vaccine development program.
DeSantis did enact restrictions when the pandemic first hit. But he quickly pivoted to become one of the most outspoken opponents of COVID lockdowns and regularly brags about keeping Florida’s tourism-dependent economy open as early and as fully as possible.
DeSantis has also been an outspoken critic of COVID vaccines even as they have saved millions of lives worldwide.
He recently pushed the Florida state Supreme Court to create a grand jury that will investigate supposed crimes related to COVID vaccines, a brazen appeal to right-wing anti-vaxxers who are an increasingly potent force in the right-wing Republican base.
Trump’s fierce attack signals that he has no intention of letting DeSantis outflank him from the right. Their race may quickly devolve into a race to appeal the farthest right-wing forces in the party, a dynamic that could further damage the GOP’s brand with moderate and independent voters.
Trump is the only announced GOP presidential candidate. But several others are considering jumping in the race in upcoming months, including DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and ex-UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Moderates like ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu may also enter the race with a pitch to bring the party closer to the political center.
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