Briefing

Why is Donald Trump taking shots at 'Ron DeSanctimonious'?

The GOP's biggest feud, explained

It looks like the long-simmering feud between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis is about to kick into high gear.

At a Florida rally on Nov. 5, the former president bestowed one of his trademark nicknames on DeSantis, the state's governor: "Ron DeSanctimonious." The comment was remarkable considering that both men are Republicans, DeSantis is up for re-election as governor on Tuesday, and Trump's endorsement in 2018 is widely credited as putting DeSantis in the governor's mansion in the first place.

But both men have evident presidential ambitions. And anybody who remembers the 2016 GOP primary — when Trump lobbed insults like "low energy" at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and "Little Marco" at Sen. Marco Rubio — knows that a little shared party affiliation won't stop Trump from belittling his rivals. His feud with DeSantis seems particularly personal, though. Why the enmity? Here's everything you need to know:

Don't these two have a history?

DeSantis, then a congressman from Florida, initially wasn't given much chance in the GOP primary for governor back in 2018. But he made his devotion to Trump the centerpiece of his campaign, releasing an ad in which he jokingly indoctrinated his children in the tenets of Trumpism:

It worked: Trump gave DeSantis his endorsement. "Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!" the then-president tweeted in December 2017. DeSantis beat the establishment GOP candidate, Adam Putnam, by nearly 20 points.  And Trump has repeatedly taken credit for the victory since then. "I was very responsible for him getting elected," Trump told NewsMax's Eric Bolling

What's the source of the feud, then?

By all accounts, it's this simple: Both men want to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. But there can be only one.

"Trump hates DeSantis for the offense of being in the way," is how National Review's Rich Lowry put it in a headline. Indeed, Trump reportedly believes DeSantis is disloyal for maneuvering toward a Republican nomination that Trump so clearly wants. The New York Times reports that the former president is "particularly irked" that DeSantis has undermined the COVID vaccines that Trump's administration developed, and that DeSantis endorsed Joe O'Dea, a Republican candidate for Senate who said Trump shouldn't run in 2024. 

How ugly has it gotten? 

Actually, it's mostly been one-sided — in public, at least. Maggie Haberman reported in her new book on Trump that the former president called DeSantis "fat," "phony," and "whiny." And then, of course, there's the "Ron DeSanctimonious" dig. (Some Republican grandees didn't like that very much.) But DeSantis hasn't coined any nicknames for Trump, or at least none have been publicly reported. That's probably strategic: "No reason at this point to alienate Trump's most energetic supporters," Philip Bump writes at The Washington Post

Instead, the two men have tried to ignore each other — notable, considering they share the home state of Florida. One might expect that as fellow Republicans, they'd campaign together in the 2024 midterm elections. Instead, they've been campaigning separately. "They're not punching each other," an anonymous DeSantis adviser told CNN, "but we're not helping them and they're not helping us." It's early yet — and it could get much rougher if the two men actually end up campaigning against each other. 

Does DeSantis actually have a chance against Trump?

It looks like an uphill climb. Trump still commands support from much of the GOP, and the party has largely been remade in his image. As of Nov. 4, Trump had a lead of more than 20 points over Desantis in two different polls. "Trump still has a solid advantage: DeSantis's constituency was Trump's first," Dexter Filkins wrote in June for The New Yorker. In a race between Trump 1.0 and Trump 2.0 (DeSantis), a lot of Republican voters might prefer the original.

Then again, a lot of them might also be eager to try a version of Trumpism that doesn't have all the reality show and social media baggage that Trump does. Some Republicans see DeSantis as a serious and disciplined version of the former president. "While Trump, with his lazy, Barnumesque persona, projects a fundamental lack of seriousness," Filkins wrote, "DeSantis has an intense work ethic, a formidable intelligence, and a granular understanding of policy."

That seems to be the thinking of one major GOP donor who wants to see DeSantis run. "I think it's time to move on to the next generation." Ken Griffin, a hedge fund CEO, told Politico in early November. Indeed, DeSantis has won several straw polls over Trump at conservative gatherings. But Vanity Fair reports that a number of GOP insiders are dubious the governor would actually take on Trump. 

What's next?

Trump reportedly will formally announce his presidential candidacy after the 2022 midterm elections. After that, it will be up to DeSantis to decide if he can win a challenge — and if he wants to keep the feud burning.

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