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Watch: Trump Admits He Doesn't Really Believe His Own Attacks Against DeSantis

AP Photo/Matt Freed

Yesterday, we highlighted Donald Trump's campaign video attacking Ron DeSantis -- praising Charlie Crist while arguing that everyone does well in Florida, thanks to the weather and beaches, so the current governor's achievements are unremarkable. I suspect DeSantis might be happy at some point to respond by reviewing the proverbial electoral and economic scoreboard in detail, but for now, this "feud" is entirely uni-directional. DeSantis isn't engaging. But Trump won't stop. 

At a campaign event in Davenport hours later, the former president went on an extended riff against DeSantis, knocking him from the left on ethanol subsidies and entitlement reform:

Trump may be the only person in the country willing to say that Ron DeSantis reminds him a lot of Mitt Romney, but he said it. Few should take any of the barbs seriously, however, because Trump gave away the game in that very clip, in an off-script aside.  After noting that it's not clear whether DeSantis will run for president or not, Trump interrupted his rant against the former Congressman's ethanol positions to point out that he wouldn't care one way or the other if DeSantis decides against seeking the GOP presidential nomination:  “If he doesn’t run, I’ll tell you he was fine on ethanol, don’t even worry about it," Trump said, before looking back to the Teleprompter and resuming his prepared broadsides.  It was a joking aside, but it represented a moment of refreshing candor, actually.  Trump admitted that he doesn't believe or care about the ethanol issue, or DeSantis' stance on it, one bit.  He doesn't care about any of it, in fact.  Trump is using weak and/or Democratic attack lines in order to try to bully DeSantis out of the race, or to dirty him up before he gets in.  There's no meaningful philosophical objection here.  It's all just a clumsy, political show, and he's counting on people buying into it.  Republican primary voters may get an opportunity to render that verdict in the months to come.

Because this stuff is so transparently unserious and completely unmoored to any meaningful policy conviction, by Trump's own admission, it's tempting not to respond to any of it.  I do feel compelled to point out that Paul Ryan's entitlement reform plans, which were and remain mathematically necessary, were not the reason the Romney/Ryan pairing lost in 2012.  Democrats used precisely the same rhetoric Trump is reheating to scare and demagogue seniors back then (Trump again specifically praised a Democratic group's repugnant 'Paul Ryan murders a grandmother by throwing her off a cliff' ad), but the Republican ticket carried senior citizens by double digits that year.  By contrast, Trump -- who makes a big show of opposing any changes to these giant insolvency-bound programs, for future seniors -- barely squeaked past Joe Biden among the oldest voting demographic in 2020, by single digits.  Romney lost to Barack Obama, a far more talented and widely-liked politician than Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, by four percentage points; Trump lost to 'Sleepy Joe' by a wider margin.  None of these factual notes matter to Trump or his narratives, but that doesn't make them any less true.  A Daily Caller reporter who covered Trump's Iowa swing found the ex-president to be positively "obsessed" with DeSantis throughout the trip:

Former President Donald Trump continued to criticize Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with an array of different insults throughout his plane ride to Iowa and during his speech on the ground Monday. This was Trump’s first trip to Iowa since launching his third presidential bid in November. He remains the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, national polling shows. However, DeSantis is polling right behind him and Trump clearly is not a fan of that. On the way to and from Iowa, Trump constantly threw insults at DeSantis..."’Tiny D’ is good,” Trump told a small group of reporters [about one DeSantis nickname] on the way back to West Palm Beach, Florida. Trump finished the interview by saying, “Remember this, if it weren’t for me, ‘Ron DeSanctimonious’ would right now be working probably at a law firm or maybe a Pizza Hut, I don’t know.” ...Trump also continued to mention that he received more votes in the state of Florida in 2016...“I got 1.2 million votes more than DeSantis in Florida. Do you know that? Nobody ever wants to write that. You know, they say how well he did … But remember, I got 1.2 million votes more than Ron DeSanctimonious. That’s pretty good. Did you know that?” he said. A spokesperson for DeSantis declined to comment.

The Septugenarian keeps raging, and the forty-something governor keeps refusing to take the bait. For now.  I can only imagine the many comebacks that must go through DeSantis allies' heads as they decline to comment.  They might be tempted to say, for instance, that the Yale- and Harvard-educated military veteran who got himself elected to Congress without Donald Trump's help would probably be doing just fine in life without the former president's gubernatorial endorsement half a decade ago.  They may also want to note that while presidential election turnouts are always won larger than off-year and midterm turnouts, Trump carried Florida by a little over three points in 2020.  DeSantis carried it two years later by nearly 20 points, winning Hispanics and women, while flipping multiple counties that Trump had lost, including a county in which Hillary Clinton had walloped Trump by 30 points.  Trump is banking on voters not knowing these things, or not caring.  If he gets in, DeSantis will at some stage face the task of firing back at Trump's narratives.  His job will be to make sure few voters remain unaware of the ridiculous basis for many of these attacks.  Whether they care, or alter their voting decisions, is a separate question and challenge.  I'll leave you with this:



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