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Is It a Mistake for DeSantis to Respond to Trump's Attacks Against Florida's COVID Performance?

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We've covered Donald Trump's COVID-centric line of attack against Florida and Ron DeSantis on multiple occasions, so if you'd like to see point-by-point responses to his various claims, feel free to click through to the provided links. My position on the 'substance' of this particular, ongoing barrage is quite clear. Campaigning in Iowa this week, DeSantis was asked about Trump's repeatedly-stated assessment that New York's pandemic response was better than Florida's -- a position explicitly endorsed by disgraced former Empire State Governor Andrew Cuomo. DeSantis fired back:

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"The criticism is ridiculous," DeSantis added, "but it is an indication the former president would double down on his lockdowns from March of 2020.”  My friend and Fox News colleague Mollie Hemingway tweeted critically about this response:


I respectfully disagree.  Trump is far ahead in the national Republican primary polling.  He's spent months, and many millions of dollars, bludgeoning DeSantis, often dishonestly.  He has decided to ally himself with Andrew Cuomo by embracing the breathtaking lie that Florida handled COVID worse than New York, purely to take pot shots at his closest competitor in the race.  This must be a 95/5 issue on the Right, with Trump on the wrong side of it (even more lopsided, I'd guess, than Trump's decision to side with Disney over DeSantis).  If DeSantis unilaterally disengaged on this point, pivoting away to attacking other Republicans on other issues, I'd call that political malpractice. DeSantis is chasing Trump right now, from rather far behind.  He needs to gain on, then overtake, Trump if he wants to become the GOP nominee.  

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Trump has given him an exploitable opening here, allowing DeSantis to defend Florida, attack New York and Cuomo, and highlight how profoundly and (even worryingly) disconnected from conservative thinking Trump is on this point.  And he's a candidate for president answering a question, showcasing an issue that dramatically favors his position and allows him to draw an important contrast with the frontrunner.  In doing so, DeSantis is not "attacking" anyone.  He's responding to a preposterous attack from Trump -- an attack that most of the "Trump wing" doesn't even agree with.  In a lot of ways, DeSantis is among the Trump wing.  Hell, I'd bet that the overwhelming majorities of both the Trump and McConnell wings of the Republican coalitions would forcefully reject the idea that New York and Cuomo performed better on COVID than Florida and DeSantis.  It's a unifying, clean hit, across the center-right spectrum.  It would be nuts to leave this stuff unanswered.

Separately but relatedly, I see the online MAGA crowd constantly arguing that DeSantis is an "establishment" Republican, that he's 'Bush Light,' and that his campaign is being run by Karl Rove.  Setting aside that Rove ran the last GOP presidential campaign to actually win a majority of both the electoral and popular votes (two decades ago), it's just totally false that Rove is associated with DeSantis, let alone managing his presidential campaign.  But one man actually has been hiring Bush alumni and is running to conservatives' left on multiple policies and issues: Donald Trump.  Maybe these things won't matter to Republican voters, but it's wild to see hardcore Trumpers engaged in so much projection.  The DeSantis campaign is aware of the 'establishment' label some are trying to pin on them, and they have strong, substantive responses to it.  Again, facts may not matter to people, but if they do, this should be compelling:

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If Ron DeSantis -- a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, who opposed the establishment (including Trump) on issues ranging from spending to amnesty, and who's developed the record in Florida that he has -- can be successfully painted as a 'RINO' or the "establishment," those terms have been sapped of absolutely all meaning.  I'll leave you with this:


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