DeSantis ratchets up campaign to knock Trump off his conservative pedestal

Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump AP Photos

DeSantis ratchets up campaign to knock Trump off his conservative pedestal

W. James Antle III

May 25, 06:40 AM May 25, 06:40 AM

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Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is trying to do something no Republican has been able to do for the last seven years: pry the conservative base away from former President Donald Trump.

DeSantis did it discreetly in a rollout that included appearances with Elon Musk, Mark Levin, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), anti-critical race theory advocate Christopher Rufo, gun rights activist and commentator Dana Loesch, and former congressman turned Fox News host Trey Gowdy.


But when pressed, DeSantis also distanced himself more forcefully from Trump.

It’s a balancing act the Florida governor will need to perfect if he is to dethrone Trump as leader of the party without alienating the base.

Trump went largely unmentioned during DeSantis’s Twitter Spaces campaign launch, though there was no question who influential conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace was talking about when he asked about unfinished business and unfulfilled promises.

“I don’t need any of the fanfare,” DeSantis replied, suggesting that he also knew who Deace was talking about. “I don’t need any of the adulation.” What did DeSantis need and want? “Results.”

DeSantis described himself as “sick of the empty promises” and desirous of seeing “action.”

“I’m getting all the meat off the bone,” DeSantis said of his time in Tallahassee, because he didn’t know “what SOB” might succeed him as governor.

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DeSantis said Floridians “understand governing is not entertainment. It’s not about building a brand or virtue signaling. It’s about delivering results.” Compared to whom?

He said there would be “follow through” when it comes to reining in the federal government, adding, “I understand the different leverage points that you’d have under Article II” of the Constitution. Unlike whom?

Commitments to build the border wall in particular were “not a campaign slogan that you get in there and then forget about.”

DeSantis told Gowdy on Fox News that he would replace Christopher Wray as director of the FBI. Who appointed Wray FBI director? That would be Trump.

Asked about the debt ceiling impasse, DeSantis didn’t begin the timeline for inflationary spending with President Joe Biden signing into law the American Rescue Plan but said “part of the reason we’re in the mess is because starting in March of 2020,” with the pandemic response.

DeSantis said it “starts with the [Anthony] Faucis stuff, but we flushed trillions of dollars down the drain.” Who elevated Fauci as the face of COVID-19 mitigation efforts? Who signed into law the first of those trillions of dollars of spending before Biden? Trump.

When asked directly, DeSantis explicitly went after Trump for adding trillions to the national debt and openness to amnesty for illegal immigrants. He said that by attacking him, Trump was drawing a “helpful contrast.”

It has been unclear whether nuance would work against Trump, who has thrown the kitchen sink at the only rival he appears to fear. DeSantis was gaining on Trump after the midterm elections, but the former president has regained a polling lead more befitting of his quasi-incumbent status.

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In 2016, Never Trumpers tried to make a conservative case against Trump and largely failed to convince rank-and-file Republicans. Now Trump has been a Republican president rather than a reality TV star and businessman with little track record on issues of importance to conservatives.

Nevertheless, Trump has areas in his record where he is vulnerable. DeSantis may prove to be capable of succeeding where others failed in exploiting them.

The biggest contrast with Trump and most important unrealized promise by the former president to which DeSantis will attempt to draw attention concerns winning. Trump pledged to do it so much that Republicans would get tired of it. Instead DeSantis implies Trump created a “culture of losing” within the party.


There is no guarantee that these lines of attack will work. Trump has been painted as an inauthentic conservative who cannot win before without losing his grip on the GOP.

If DeSantis can win the argument, however, he stands a good chance of doing something no Republican has done since 2012: win the party’s presidential nomination without being Trump.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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