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Tipsheet

Fact Check: Trump's Latest Anti-DeSantis Rant

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I'm genuinely unsure whether it's even worth making the effort to substantively examine former President Trump's multi-post 'Truth' Social thread hammering Florida Governor Ron DeSantis -- this latest broadside came in response to the latter Republican's interview with Piers Morgan -- but just in case factual information still matters to anyone, let's have a look.  First off, I agree with Trump that the highly-publicized televised sit-down is another strong indication that DeSantis is running for president.  As for the rest of his points?  Here were my short, initial thoughts on Special Report, followed screenshots of Trump's blizzard of claims and assertions about DeSantis and Florida:

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(1) Trump touts receiving more votes than DeSantis in Florida.  This is true, but it's a weak argument.  Trump carried Florida twice, beating Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden by just over one percentage point, and just over three percentage points, respectively.  Presidential election turnouts are always much larger than midterm turnouts.  DeSantis first won his first gubernatorial term in the blue year of 2018 -- yes, with Trump's help -- by a little more than 30,000 votes statewide, a margin of less than one-half of one percent.  Four years later, he won by roughly 1.5 million votes, achieving a victory margin 19 full percentage points better than his 2018 mark.  Trump wants to make an apples (presidential turnout) to oranges (midterm turnout) comparison to make it seem like his win was more impressive.  Three points versus nearly 20 points, an unheard-of number in Florida, doesn't tell the story Trump wants it to tell -- so he's pointing to raw vote totals instead.  

(2) If 'raw votes' versus 'victory margin' is the deeply misleading game Trump wants to play, however, let's look at Trump's raw vote improvement between 2016 and 2020 in Florida.  Against Hillary Clinton, Trump collected a little more than 4.6 million votes in the Sunshine State.  Four years later, he improved that mark by more than one million votes (nearly 5.7 million), amounting to a three-plus-point overall margin, due to the enormous number of total votes cast (Biden won 5.3 million votes, compared to Clinton's 4.5 million). DeSantis won more votes in Florida last year than Clinton won in the 2016 presidential cycle, flipping blue counties like Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Osceola, all of which Trump decisively lost twice.  The governor increased his raw vote total by approximately 1.5 million, better than Trump's 1.1 million improvement.  

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Demographically, Trump lost Florida women in 2020; DeSantis won them by seven points in 2022.  Trump lost Florida Hispanics in 2020; DeSantis won them by 15 points two years later.  Trump lost Florida independents in 2020, by double digits; DeSantis won them by eight in 2022.  Trump got blown out by Biden among younger voters in Florida; DeSantis was competitive, outright winning 30-44 year olds.  There is simply no honest or realistic way to paint Trump's electoral performance in Florida as better than DeSantis'.  Even if you want to pretend that Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden were high-quality candidates, it's difficult for Trump to dismiss Charlie Crist as an easy pushover because Trump just recently praised Crist's job performance and popularity in Florida, as part of a separate rhetorical shotgun blast at DeSantis.

(3) The former president again attacks DeSantis from the left on entitlement reform, using cut-and-pasted Democratic talking points to assail positions and votes DeSantis took while in Congress, tying him to former House Speaker Paul Ryan.  For the record, here is how Trump described Ryan upon his retirement announcement in 2018:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised House Speaker Paul Ryan as “a truly good man” with a “legacy of achievement” as news broke that the lawmaker will not seek reelection to Congress. “Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man, and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question,” the president tweeted. “We are with you Paul!”

(4) In a rehash of another recent barb, Trump claims that Florida has been doing well for quite awhile, long before he says he "put Ron there."  The voters put DeSantis there, of course, and many more voters moved to Florida under the DeSantis administration, then decided to keep him in office, by an overwhelming margin.  Trump half-heartedly endorsed DeSantis at the tail end of the last cycle, later saying that he regretted doing so, while also hailing Democrat Charlie Crist.  Let's state this clearly: He doesn't regret endorsing DeSantis because DeSantis has performed poorly (as so many of Trump's endorsed politicians have).  He regrets it because DeSantis has thrived and therefore poses a real challenge to Trump's all-consuming and self-absorbed quest for power and attention.  

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(5) It's true that the sunshine and ocean have been Florida selling points for many years.  But voters hadn't previously seen fit to flock to the state in record numbers, as they have since 2020.  Also, despite the climate and seaside appeal, statewide office holders almost never win blowouts in the state, let alone by nearly 20 points.  Until 2022, that is.  Did the sun magically get sunnier, and the ocean bluer?  Actually, the ocean has been getting a bit bluer under the current governor's policies.  It may be the only thing getting bluer in the state.

(6) It is downright embarrassing to pretend that DeSantis was a "big lockdown governor," who 'sealed' all the beaches.  But Trump keeps saying it anyway, with the Democratic National Committee cheering him on.  The first claim is preposterous on its face.  The second claim is provably false.  And you don't have to take my word for it.  Take Trump's:

As for shutting down the beaches, it's another untrue claim.  Remember this?

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Why, it's almost as if Trump doesn't really believe his own stories about DeSantis' record, as he's openly admitted.  And the "lockdown" lies are pretty rich coming from a guy who deferred to Dr. Anthony Fauci over and over again, joining Fauci in attacking Republican governors who didn't go along with the Trump/Fauci lockdown guidance.

(7) There's a reason why so many of Trump's examples of Florida ranking "poorly" on matters like COVID and crime just so happen to involve the state being third "worst" in the country.  It's a very stupid reason, I'm afraid.  He either doesn't realize, or is counting on his supporters not to realize, that Florida has the third most COVID cases/deaths/murders/rapes because Florida has the...third highest population in the country.  He's clumsily manipulating raw numbers again.  It seems as though he's doing this intentionally because in another statistic listed in the extended rant, he references death rates, not total deaths.  In reality, Florida is middle of the pack in age-adjusted excess deaths during the pandemic, and was the best-ranked large state in this study, taking into account COVID-era death rates, economic performance, and in-school instruction.  Team DeSantis notes that based on NCHS/CDC Wonder data, "from 2020-2022 in underlying cause of death, Florida [had] lower per capita mortality rates involving COVID-19 than New York, and when adjusted for age, it was also lower than California."  Trump apparently wants people to believe Andrew Cuomo did a better job than DeSantis did during COVID.  How long until Trump brings leftist Rebekah Jones onstage at a rally to repeat her debunked, Randi Weingarten-endorsed conspiracy theories against DeSantis?  I ask that question only quasi-facetiously.

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(8) Trump criticizes Florida's education system as "among the worst" in the nation.  US News and World Report ranks Florida as number 3 overall in education in the US (number one in higher education, and number 16 in Pre-K through 12), by far the top-performing red state.  Florida students scored above the national average (often "significantly higher") in math, reading and science on the 2022 'Nation's Report Card.'  

(9) On cost of living, US News and World Report ranks Florida 25th, exactly average, on cost of living.  WalletHub places Florida at number 6 in terms of lowest combined state and local tax burden in the country.  Trump translates this into 'dead last' in affordability.    

(10) For someone who talks a lot, albeit quite selectively, about "law and order," Trump also badly mischaracterizes Florida's crime statistics.  He rips the Sunshine State as "among the worst" on crime.  In fact, the crime rate in Florida hit a 50-year low in 2022, with year-over-year crime also down by eight percent.

It's pretty striking, but not at all surprising, to see Trump dishonestly running down his own adoptive home state's actual empirical record, for the sole and obvious purpose of sullying a potential political opponent.  Trump does not even feign interest in coherence or consistency in going after DeSantis.  He unloads with his typical 'kitchen sink' approach, totally unconcerned with basic accuracy or his own previous statements and actions.  Some people enjoy this "fighting" style.  These people form the former president's core base.  But as the elections of 2018, 2020, and 2022 demonstrate, whether we like it or not, many other Americans -- especially the swing voters who decide elections -- aren't fond of his brand of politics.  Conservative voters must decide: Is the purpose of the 2024 GOP presidential primary to Make Donald Trump's Feelings Great Again, or to put themselves in the best position to win the general election?  I'll leave you with this:

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