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Tipsheet

New Trump Ad: It Would Be Disloyal of DeSantis to Run Against Me Because I Saved His Career

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Trump has been making this point for weeks, telling a dramatic tale of Ron DeSantis begging him -- tears in his eyes -- for an endorsement to save his failing 2018 gubernatorial primary campaign in Florida.  With due respect to DeSantis, I'm not sure many people can truly picture him weeping over anything, including perhaps the birth of his own child, but Trump loves to spin stories about people begging him "like a dog," etc. for favors and help.  The way Trump tells it, DeSantis was getting crushed, then pleaded for Trump's blessing, then as soon as he received it, DeSantis shot up in the polls and won the primary.  Trump made DeSantis.  This narrative is now synthesized into a 60 second television ad running nationally, adding to the millions of dollars Team Trump has already spent attacking DeSantis:

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Two points.  First, on Trump's version of events, it's not clear that his boasting is entirely accurate, if you can imagine that.  Trump endorsed DeSantis for governor in June of that year:

In fact, DeSantis had been touting Trump's support in campaign literature and on his website for months, "because Trump tweeted in December in support of DeSantis, saying he would 'make a GREAT Governor of Florida' and that he was a 'true FIGHTER,'" according to the Tampa Bay Times.  DeSantis had been explicitly tying his campaign to Trump since late 2017.  It's indisputable that Trump's official endorsement boosted DeSantis, but in his new memoir, Florida's governor says his internal tracking polling still showed him trailing establishment Republican Adam Putnam heading into a crucial televised debate in late August.  That's when things really changed, DeSantis writes:

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It seems as though the real story may at least be a bit more complicated than "DeSantis was dead in the water until Trump swooped in and single-handedly turned everything around."  Secondly, and more importantly, let's just say for the sake of argument that Trump's spin on the question of what happened half-a-decade ago is 100 percent accurate.  Who cares?  Trump has endorsed -- what? -- hundreds of political candidates over the years.  Many have won, and quite a few have lost (including in some very consequential races recently, with a strong correlation to the Trump factor).  Of those who have won, how many of them have turned out to be no-names, rubber stamps, and mediocrities?  How many of them have ended up "betraying" Trump in some way?  It's worth noting that Trump's understanding of loyalty is a one-way street; he's ended up feuding with and trashing so many people he's helped empower.  Attaining political office is one thing.  Doing something meaningful with that power is another.  

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Even if Trump could legitimately lay total claim to DeSantis' primary election victory five years ago, what has mattered ever since, and what matters now, is what DeSantis has done with that power, since that victory.  He's done a lot.  It's been meaningful.  It has re-written the political map in one of largest and most diverse states in America.  His leadership, especially on COVID policy, had reverberating effects around the country, and did an enormous amount of good.  Trump can keep ranting and lying about the state of Florida until he's blue in the face.  The proof is in the population growth, the economic boom, the plummeting crime rate, and the Florida electorate's resounding endorsement of DeSantis' leadership just a few months ago.  Trump isn't responsible for any of that.  In fact, in some ways, he tried to undermine it.  And he certainly didn't have any significant hand in DeSantis' 1.5 million-vote win margin -- much larger than the margins (both in terms of raw votes and percentage points) that Trump managed in Florida against two underwhelming Democratic opponents.

Sure, Trump helped get him there three elections ago.  But after that, DeSantis controlled his destiny.  That's far more important than some petty, myopic, misplaced fealty demand from a man who demonstrates no corresponding honor or commitment to anyone.  As I've suggested before, DeSantis might be best served to effectively accept Trump's tendentious narrative about 2018 and thank him for his help, as opposed to fighting him on the details and the timeline, as tempting as that might be.  Expressing gratitude for a years-old endorsement -- perhaps while magnanimously pointing out that each man has twice endorsed and supported the other -- is the smart play.  If Trump wants to make it all about him, and what's supposedly 'owed' to him, let him rage about that.  Beyond his hardcore fans, it's not a compelling argument that will move anyone.  DeSantis should use the opportunity to hug Trump in a way, while working to draw political blood by contrasting his record, his governing outcomes on key issues, and his electoral results, against Trump's.  That's an argument he can win, if substance matters at all to undecided voters or 'soft' Trump supporters.  I'll leave you with DeSantis allies responding to some barbs, including a nod to a Trumpian nickname, from another 2024 GOP presidential candidate:

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