Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is attending a “meet-and-greet policy discussion” at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday evening as tensions between DeSantis and former President Donald Trump continue to rise.
The event, hosted by the nonprofit group And to the Republic, will feature expected guest appearances from Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Darin LaHood (R-IL), Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Chip Roy (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).
But also hovering over DeSantis’s visit to Washington, D.C., are the escalating attacks between the Trump camp and DeSantis’s allies.
In recent days and weeks, super PACs affiliated with both men have launched attack ads against each other despite DeSantis not being a declared 2024 presidential candidate.
MAGA Inc., a Trump-backed PAC, released a 30-second ad last week mocking DeSantis for allegedly eating chocolate pudding with his fingers. The pudding allegations were reported by the Daily Beast last month. MAGA Inc. also purchased a $3 million ad buy highlighting DeSantis’s votes to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Not to be outdone, Never Back Down, a pro-DeSantis PAC, came to the governor’s rescue. The group released an ad on Friday, the same day Trump spoke to the National Rifle Association, attacking the former president’s Second Amendment credentials. The group also released an ad on Sunday attacking Trump for lying about DeSantis’s record on Social Security.
Even more worryingly for DeSantis, Florida Republicans are defecting and endorsing Trump. Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) announced his support for Trump on Monday. Steube joined other Sunshine State Republicans, such as Reps. Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna, and Cory Mills, in backing Trump over DeSantis. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) have also endorsed Trump in recent days. (DeSantis said he will make a decision on a 2024 run after Florida’s legislative session wraps up in May.)
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said the Florida lawmakers’ defection to Trump is a blow to the governor. “Losing those endorsements is not helpful because they are respected members of the Florida delegation,” O’Connell told the Washington Examiner. “But again, it is recoverable, and times can change.”
In most polls, DeSantis is the only Republican polling close to Trump, who is still in command of the GOP base. However, a Public Opinion Strategies poll obtained by McClatchy showed DeSantis narrowly beating President Joe Biden in Arizona and Pennsylvania, two important battleground states. DeSantis leads Biden 45% to 42% in Pennsylvania. He also leads Biden in Arizona 48% to 42%.
Meanwhile, Biden leads Trump in Pennsylvania, 46% to 42%. In Arizona, Biden beats Trump 45% to 44%.
Yet Trump is still king in the GOP, and his recent legal woes have bolstered his status with Republican voters. Trump was arrested and arraigned in a Manhattan court earlier this month stemming from a 2016 hush money payment scheme.
“Not only does he have the mantle, but he’s also setting the sort of control for the conversation,” O’Connell said. “He has all the momentum. It’s very, very hard to take the mantle back from Donald Trump because he’s sucking all the oxygen out of the Republican primary room.”
DeSantis has made stoking the culture wars a critical part of his persona.
The governor passed a six-week abortion ban in Florida last week but has been reluctant to champion his legislative achievement in public. Similarly, Trump has been reluctant to champion the overturning of Roe v. Wade, even though he was responsible for nominating the three Supreme Court justices who helped overturn the landmark ruling last year. Trump has not publicly commented on DeSantis’s abortion ruling.
A feud with Disney also led to some Republicans criticizing DeSantis. This week, DeSantis championed legislation that would revoke an agreement Disney made with the former Reedy Creek Improvement District Board of Supervisors to bypass Florida’s control over the Walt Disney World Resort. The corporation and DeSantis have feuded since last year, when Disney criticized the Parental Rights in Education Act.
“Why do you want to punish a place that creates enormous tax revenue for your state? Enormous tourism for your state? And you want to punish them because they’ve disagreed with you?” former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) said during an event with Semafor on Tuesday.
Christie, a possible 2024 candidate, also said he didn’t think DeSantis was a “conservative” based on his actions toward Disney.
Likewise, GOP strategist Frank Luntz criticized DeSantis’s feud with Disney.
“I don’t know why Gov. DeSantis has decided to make Disney an enemy,” Luntz said during C-SPAN’s Washington Journal show on Tuesday. “He’s trying to use Disney to elevate himself. He’s got a brilliant record. Florida’s economy is strong. Crime is down. Quality of life is up. It’s a success story. So why are you demonizing a company?”
O’Connell, however, said the Disney flap can only help DeSantis.
“Here’s why it helps him with the Republican base: because Disney is the symbol of corporate activism,” O’Connell said. “And Republicans do not like corporate activism because they want to go back to the old Michael Jordan ‘Republicans buy tennis shoes, too.'”
DeSantis will need to define his media narrative before Trump brandishes him. Events such as the meet-and-greet at the Heritage Foundation can help bolster DeSantis ahead of an expected 2024 run.
“I think that this is a case of DeSantis introducing himself to Heritage … [and] the broader Heritage committee,” O’Connell said. “But it’s also an attempt to generate support and lay out his vision.”
Original Location: DeSantis returns to Capitol Hill amid brewing 2024 troubles with Trump
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