While former President Donald Trump continues to work out nicknames for his potential 2024 presidential rival, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is still managing to stay out of the fray while building his resume and eyeing more Republican-backed victories on issues like education, crime, and immigration.
DeSantis embarked on a pro-police tour of blue cities on Monday, traveling to the New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago areas and meeting with sheriffs, chiefs of police and other local law enforcement officials who feel unsupported by their local governments, his political team told Fox News Digital.
While DeSantis has not announced a 2024 presidential run, he is frequently floated as a top contender to face off against Trump in the Republican primary. The governor is also releasing an autobiography on Feb. 28, titled “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival,” which is viewed by political pundits as another sign he is readying an announcement.
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Trump recently insisted on his Truth Social site that contrary to his frequent mocking and name-calling of DeSantis, he rarely thinks about the governor. “I don’t even think about it — A very unimportant subject to me!!!” he declared last week.
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The former president targeted DeSantis days later after Fox News exclusively reported the details of DeSantis’ pro-police tour on Sunday.
“Ron DeSanctimonious wants to cut your Social Security and Medicare,” Trump wrote Sunday night, “closed up Florida & its beaches, loves RINOS Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and Karl Rove (disasters ALL!), is backed by Globalist’s Club for NO Growth, Lincoln Pervert Project, & ‘Uninspired’ Koch — And it only gets worse from there. He is a RINO in disguise!, whose Poll numbers are dropping like a rock. Good luck Ron!”
The virtually one-sided feud between Trump and DeSantis began in November, when the former president branded him “Ron DeSanctimonious” just three days before the midterm elections. When Election Day came, the Wall Street Journal published comments by Trump threatening to release dirt on DeSantis if the governor decided to run for president.
“If he did run, I will tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering,” Trump told the outlet. “I know more about him than anybody other than perhaps his wife, who is really running his campaign.”
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Trump’s attacks against DeSantis so close to the election were widely condemned by conservatives, and while Republicans went on to underperform on the national level, losing the U.S. Senate and only retaking the House by a few seats, DeSantis cruised to an historic 19-point win in Florida, a onetime battleground state.
The day after the election, the former president lashed out a DeSantis again, writing, “Now that the Election in Florida is over, and everything went quite well, shouldn’t it be said that in 2020, I got 1.1 Million more votes in Florida than Ron D got this year, 5.7 Million to 4.6 Million? Just asking?”
Trump later unleashed a more than 400-word tirade against DeSantis, slamming the governor as “average” and lacking “class” and “loyalty.” He criticized DeSantis for ordering lockdowns in Florida, saying the governor “didn’t have to close up his State, but did, unlike other Republican Governors,” and he credited himself for DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial win against disgraced Democrat Andrew Gillum.
Trump’s critique of DeSantis for locking down the state is a peculiar one. DeSantis didn’t issue his first and only stay-at-home order for the state until April 1, 2020, more than two weeks after Trump, as president, announced his “15 Days to Slow the Spread” plan, which recommended that governors shut down schools, restaurants and other public places.
While DeSantis, like most governors across the country, followed the guidance and briefly shut down the state, he was one of the first to reopen, which brought on a wave of Democratic backlash that continues today. The governor has since vowed that the state would never lock down again, and that one of his biggest regrets was not pushing back against the Trump administration’s recommendations, which he primarily blamed on Dr. Anthony Fauci, leader of the White House’s COVID-19 response.
Still, Trump, who formally announced his 2024 presidential run on Nov. 15, a week after the midterms, has repeatedly slammed DeSantis’ pandemic response on Truth Social in recent weeks.
According to a new poll by Monmouth University, the governor would win a hypothetical head-to-head match against Trump by a 53% to 40% margin, and he is preferred over Trump among nearly every major voting bloc in the party, except among those earning less than $50,000 a year and people age 65 and older. Other polls, however, have shown Trump leading DeSantis.
Former South Carolina Governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley, the only other Republican to officially announce her 2024 presidential run besides Trump, took her first shot at DeSantis last week by saying his controversial parental rights law didn’t go far enough.
“There was all this talk about the Florida bill — the ‘don’t say gay bill.’ Basically what it said was you shouldn’t be able to talk about gender before third grade. I’m sorry. I don’t think that goes far enough,” Haley told supporters in New Hampshire. “When I was in school you didn’t have sex ed until 7th grade. And even then, your parents had to sign whether you could take the class.”
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Another potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, on Sunday blasted DeSantis’ education initiatives as “big government” and even “authoritarian.”
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, another potential candidate, has also fired shots at DeSantis in recent weeks.
“I’m ranked the most fiscally conservative governor in the country,” he told Politico this month. “I’m No. 1 in personal freedoms. Sorry, Ron, you’re No. 2.”
DeSantis has largely refrained from taking any direct shots at Trump or others, but he said he considers the criticism “positive feedback” during an appearance on “Fox & Friends” Monday morning.
“If you’re an office holder, and you’re just sitting there twiddling your thumbs and not getting anything done, no one ever says anything,” the governor said. “You can kind of just fly under the radar. But when you’re out there leading, when you’re out there setting the agenda, not just for Florida, but really for the nation, which we’ve done over the last few years, people see that. And the people that don’t necessarily like that are going to respond accordingly. But I can just tell you, if people are not firing at me, then I must not be doing my job.”
The governor is traveling to blue-led cities to tout his efforts to support law enforcement and reduce crime in Florida, where he recently proposed legislation to strengthen bail laws, toughen penalties for sex criminals and other anti-crime measures.
According to the governor’s office, DeSantis implemented the largest recruitment package for law enforcement officers in state history last year, awarding $5,000 signing bonuses to officers willing to relocate to Florida from blue states.
Speaking from Staten Island on Monday morning, DeSantis told “Fox & Friends” that the “woke” approach to law enforcement and crime has failed.
“It’s all putting ideology over public safety,” he said. “It has caused a lot of people to leave these formerly thriving areas.”
The governor has already signed multiple bills in his second term that are popular with Republicans, including granting more authority to the statewide prosecutor for cases related to voter fraud, as well as repealing and replacing the state’s controversial migrant relocation program, which transports illegals out of state.
Last week, DeSantis proposed his “Digital Bill of Rights,” which would ban TikTok from government devices and prohibit any Florida state or local government employee from coordinating with a “Big Tech” company to censor free speech.
Last month, the governor announced his “Teacher’s Bill of Rights,” which would include $1 billion in teacher pay raises but also limit the power of teachers’ unions in the state. It comes almost one year after he signed into law his Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by Democrats, which banned teachers from giving classroom instruction on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade.
DeSantis told Fox News on Monday that “this is going to be the most productive legislative session we have had across the board.”
“I think people look at Florida, and they’re like, ‘Man, the governor has gotten a lot done,’ and we have and we’re proud of it. You ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said.