Trump Is Plotting How to Kick DeSantis ‘In the Nuts.’ Here’s His Playbook, So Far

Via:  John Russell  •  2 months ago  •  16 comments

By:   Tim Dickinson (Rolling Stone)

Trump Is Plotting How to Kick DeSantis ‘In the Nuts.’ Here’s His Playbook, So Far
Former President Donald Trump and his allies are charting out possible plans of attack against likely 2024 rival and Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

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Team Trump is preparing to paint the Florida governor as an establishment hawk who'll put Social Security on the chopping block By Asawin Suebsaeng, Tim Dickinson January 19, 2023 Photographs used in composite by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images; Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump and his allies have already started charting out possible plans of attack against likely 2024 rival and Florida governor Ron DeSantis, according to three people familiar with the matter.

"This is where…Trump kicks him in the nuts," one person close to the ex-president says.

The former president's determination to obliterate his ascendent rival underscores just how unwilling Trump is to pass the torch and surrender his stewardship of the GOP — even if it shreds the party. As Trump and his ideological heir DeSantis vie for control of the Republican Party, the victor in that power struggle will help determine the precise kind of extreme politics that modern conservatives see as their future: the authoritarian personality cult of a Trump, or the more disciplined MAGAism of a DeSantis.

With everyone on Team Trump expecting DeSantis to challenge the former president in the upcoming GOP presidential primary, Trump and his advisers are plotting a new scorched-earth campaign against DeSantis as soon as he declares his 2024 candidacy.

In the past two months, Trump has talked to political allies about effective ways to pummel DeSantis on both personal issues — recurring concerns about his "likeability" and supposed charisma deficit — and on policy matters such as DeSantis' hawkish foreign policy, trade stances, COVID-19 posturing, closeness to the party's "establishment," and the past votes to slash the social safety net, sources familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone.

Trump has participated in a handful of discussions on this topic so far, but campaign advisers are trying to keep the finer details of their oppo blitz under wraps for now. Still, that hasn't stemmed Trump's enthusiasm for going after DeSantis — his former MAGA-friendly ally — whom the former president now sees as his greatest intra-party foe. In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly quizzed some of those close to him: "What else do we have on [Ron]?" he has asked, according to two sources who've heard his query.

On a host of issues, Trump and his lieutenants are itching to portray DeSantis as the "establishment" figure — the one who is preferred by the supposedly squishy party bigwigs like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. One of Trump's biggest impacts on the GOP was largely shelving the budget-slashing austerity economics of former Speaker Ryan and ushering in a free-spending, debt-ballooning era that combined tax cuts for the rich, with a rhetorical cease-fire on threats to the bennies of the masses — ranging from Social Security to Medicare.

One area in which Trump and his allies smell that kind of weakness in DeSantis is on Social Security (even though President Trump himself displayed an openness toward eventual significant cuts to popular entitlement programs).

"In a Republican primary, only Donald Trump could effectively go after Ron DeSantis for wanting to cut Social Security,"a Republican close to the 2024 Trump campaign tells Rolling Stone. "Trump has a track record of saying the right things on this issue both when it comes to a general election and also Republican voters in a primary. DeSantis' record in the House [on this topic] is very much of the Paul Ryan, privatize Social Security platform, which is just not where our voters are now."

For Trump, DeSantis may be easy to paint as a heartless budget-slasher. During his stint in the House from 2013 to 2018, DeSantis was a founding member of Freedom Caucus — the hardest of the hardline members of the GOP conference. "He was part of the team," Freedom Caucus founder and former Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon tells Rolling Stone. Salmon further praises DeSantis as "one of the most principled people I ever got a chance to work with."

At the time before the rise of Trumpism in 2015 and 2016, those principles were all about constraining government spending by repealing Obamacare and pursuing "entitlement reform." In 2013, during DeSantis' first year in office, he voted for a far-right budget resolution that sought to balance the federal budget in just four years — twice as fast as a competing measure by Ryan that got the Republican budget wonk lampooned as a "zombie-eyed granny starver."

The draconian cuts DeSantis voted for would have raised the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to 70. It would have weakened Medicare by offering seniors "premium support" instead of comprehensive health coverage. And it would have eroded Social Security by giving recipients miserly annual adjustments for inflation. Taken together, the two measures would have cut these bedrock safety-net programs for seniors by more than $250 billion over a decade.

Furthermore, two people who've spoken to Trump in the past couple of months about how DeSantis is the "establishment" candidate — a claim Trump likes to hurl, even though Trump is the literal leader and standard-bearer of his own party — say that the ex-president has brought up foreign policy as a means to differentiate himself from the Florida Republican. During at least one dinner late last year, the former president told a longtime associate that DeSantis was fine with "endless wars," according to a source with direct knowledge of the exchange.

On foreign policy, Trump represented a partial break with the interventionist neoconservative foreign policy that had defined the GOP since the George W. Bush era. Trump trashed GOP hawks like John McCain, hectored NATO allies to cough up more cash for their own defense, played footsie with Vladimir Putin, regularly lambasted U.S. commitments in Afghanistan and Syria (even as he'd escalate military involvement abroad), and forged an open bromance with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

DeSantis has a far more conventional Republican profile. That starts with his decorated military service — during the Global War on Terror he served as a JAG officer at Guantanamo, and deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, as the top legal adviser to SEAL Team One.

MAGA politicians are frequently Russia apologists, seeing Putin as an avatar of the kind of authoritarian Christian nationalism they'd prefer to install in the United States. But on Russia, in particular, DeSantis sounds like a throwback, McCain-style hawk, blasting Putin as an "authoritarian gas station attendant… with some legacy nuclear weapons."

And when it comes to other aspects of his international and domestic platform, the former president has been using a familiar playbook, and appears to be sticking to it. In a throwback to 2016, he's described DeSantis in several private conversations in recent weeks as: "Bad on trade."

True to his belligerent brand of politics, Trump made trade wars a centerpiece of his administration. In a display of executive power, Trump slapped tariffs on everything from solar panels to washing machines to steel — offending geopolitical foes (China), frenemies (India), and allies (Canada) in equal measure. For Trump, hiking taxes on cheap imports became a politically potent — if economically incoherent — display of economic nationalism.

Quietly, DeSantis is far more mainstream on trade. While taking rhetorical swings at "Communist" China, DeSantis has been solicitous of top U.S. trade partners as Florida's governor, recently hosting a trade conference with Japan in Orlando.

In recent huddles with longtime confidants, Trump has signaled his intention to cudgel DeSantis for the former congressman's role in advancing a Pacific-rim free trade pact called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In a 2015 vote, DeSantis voted to give president Obama "fast track" authority to pursue that trade deal with dozens of Asian nations. He joined an unusual bipartisan coalition with some far-left Democrats — including former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Rep. Earl Blumenaur, who represents Portland, Oregon. In Trump's words, this makes DeSantis somehow "pro-Obama" on trade policy.

Whatever the policy merits of the trade deal, it was bad politics amid rising economic nationalism. Public opinion broke so sharply against TPP that even Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton ran against it in her 2016 presidential bid, and Trump spiked U.S. participation shortly on his first full day in office, having crusaded against it as a "bad, bad deal for American businesses, for workers, for taxpayers."

But in perhaps his most brazen effort to brand himself as Trumpier than Trump, DeSantis has for months tried to fully ingratiate himself to the anti-vaccine factions of the GOP. It's a move that Trump — as he told at least one Republican strategist late last year — sees as completely "phony," given how DeSantis has tried to have it both ways on the coronavirus shots. Several people currently working to get Trump reelected tell Rolling Stone that Trump and his campaign fully intend to troll this hypocrisy in a primary.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis' approach to controlling the spread of the deadly disease was not much different from governors in blue states, including a move to quarantine visitors from states like Louisiana. And in 2020, he praised then-President Trump for the administration's determination to cut through red tape to speed the development of vaccines. In May 2021, DeSantis encouraged citizens to get their jabs, telling the public: "The vaccines protect you. Get vaccinated and then live your life."

But DeSantis has since flip-flopped to cater to the kind of hyper-partisan vaccine rejection that has been championed by many in the MAGA base and in conservative influencer communities. By Jan. 2022, he refused to even say whether he'd received a COVID booster shot (a stance Trump called "gutless") while insisting vaccination was a "personal decision."

DeSantis also appointed a prominent vaccine skeptic as surgeon general, who infamously advised young men not to get mRNA vaccines. These days, instead of barnstorming Florida to get the state's vulnerable population vaccinated, DeSantis holds himself out as crusader against health mandates. This week, he introduced a "Prescribe Freedom" package of legislation to permanently ban mask mandates in schools and businesses, and prohibit "employers from hiring or firing based on mRNA jabs."

On DeSantis' end, the MAGA-molded governor has become a star among influential conservative media for delivering a "red wave" in the 2022 election, swaying many top Republican donors and conservative voters who are open to moving on from Trump's excesses and baggage. Though DeSantis has refused to respond directly to Trump's ongoing jabs, the governor has occasionally stressed the contrasts between himself and Trump, typically by attempting to get to Trump's right on select issues, such as pandemic restrictions. However, DeSantis has declined to name Trump when doing so, and has falsely claimed that there's no tension or feud between him and the ex-president.

"Strategically, I would say DeSantis is probably well inoculated on some of these attacks from Trump," says David Kochel, who served as a chief strategist in 2016 for Jeb Bush, who of course fell to Trump. "On the pandemic, DeSantis can say,'You kept Dr. Fauci around, I would have fired him; you locked us down, I opened Florida back up,'" Kochel says. The strategist adds that attacking DeSantis on substance doesn't play to the former president's strong suit. "Trump is never at his best when he's talking about policy; he's at his best when he's going after people about culture wars, which DeSantis has kind of perfect pitch on."

Similarly, Kochel says Trump will have a hard time casting DeSantis as a tool of the establishment. "It's going to be tricky [because] Trump is the establishment now. He's the one who ran an administration, recruited a bunch of candidates to look and sound like him. The way Trump went after Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, I do not believe that's going to work against Ron DeSantis."

Assessing the odds of Trump's strategy to take down DeSantis, Kochel simply says: "It will be tough."


jrGroupDiscuss - desc
Professor Principal
1  seeder  JohnRussell    2 months ago

Professor Principal
2  seeder  JohnRussell    2 months ago
As Republican contenders for the 2024 presidential nomination begin to test the waters with an emphasis on how they would fare against announced candidate Donald Trump, the former president is reportedly fixated on his main rival Ron DeSantis and could be contemplating a new strategy to end the Florida Republican's dream of becoming the party's standard bearer. With Rolling Stone reporting that DeSantis has taken some hard positions years ago that "would have raised the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to 70. It would have weakened Medicare by offering seniors “premium support” instead of comprehensive health coverage. And it would have eroded Social Security by giving recipients miserly annual adjustments for inflation.

Intelligencer's political analyst Ed Kilgore suggested that Trump could make that a central theme when he finally declares open warfare on the Florida Governor for his controversial 2013 proposals. And, to do that, the former president would have to go after DeSantis from the left, suggests Kilgore. As he pointed out, Trump "famously abandoned austerity politics upon taking office in 2017," choosing instead to cut tax rates for the rich without reeling in domestic spending or entitlements. With that in his hip pocket, the former president could sell himself to voters as the savior of Medicare and Social Security while painting DeSantis as an ogre willing to destroy the social safety net.

Kilgore wrote, "In other words, instead of maligning his governor as a RINO squish the way he has described most Republican rivals, Trump will go after DeSantis for supporting budget austerity, 'entitlement reform,' and free trade (all positions common among hard-core pre-MAGA conservatives)," while also adding it has some pitfalls by noting, "Trump can’t go after DeSantis’s like-minded 2013 thinking without fragging some of his most devoted followers today."

"If Trump decides on this as his strategy, he won’t pull any punches in pursuing it. The man who in 2016 dared to insinuate that John McCain was a loser for enduring years of torture as a POW isn’t going to show any grudging respect for Ron DeSantis once he begins smiting him hip and thigh," the analyst predicted.

Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  JohnRussell @2    2 months ago

If Trump decides to attack DeSantis on the basis of DeSantis wanting to cut social security this could be fascinating. 

Since Trump is a constant liar he will undoubtedly exaggerate DeSantis positions and even invent some that dont exist. BUT, it couldnt happen to a nicer guy. Should be fascinating to see Trump turn his massive dishonesty on his own. I cant wait. 

Sean Treacy
Professor Expert
3  Sean Treacy    2 months ago

The best thing trump has going for him is his friends in the left wing media will amplify his talking points against desantis and do everything they can to ensure he’s the nominee.

Professor Principal
3.1  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  Sean Treacy @3    2 months ago

This what we like to call "the chicken coming home to roost". "Conservatives" and the media have strived mightily to normalize a mentally ill psychotic liar for 7 plus years now.  DeSantis himself starred in an absurd pro Trump video 

Now the hand that fed him wants to bite him. He deserves it.  Whatever Trump does to attack DeSantis will undoubtedly be a mixture of truth , half truth, quarter truth , and fantasy.  Now conservatives will feel the effect of the monster they created. 

Let's go. 

Thrawn 31
Professor Guide
3.2  Thrawn 31  replied to  Sean Treacy @3    2 months ago

Wise politics. We all know how unelectable Trump is. Best thing for the left to do is keep Trump in the news as much as possible. The GOP is terrified of him so they won’t do anything to try and create any space. 

Donald Trump is the key for the Dems to retain the WH.

Greg Jones
Professor Guide
4  Greg Jones    2 months ago

"Assessing the odds of Trump's strategy to take down DeSantis, Kochel simply says: "It will be tough.""

Yeah, gonna be tough. Trump's divisive and abrasive bluster is rapidly losing its luster. His hard core election denier base is dwindling at an increasing rate.

I'm sure DeSantis is well aware of Trump's tactics and will be well prepared to deal with them when he announces later this year.

In the meantime, the Democrats have a real set of problems on their hands and it's doubtful they can correct the Biden's comedy of errors before the '24 election.

Trump can't win another national election, nominating him would be political suicide for the Republicans. Biden can't win either, he's accumulating too much baggage

 So yes, it's going to be a very interesting two years.

Professor Principal
4.1  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  Greg Jones @4    2 months ago

Trump could make DeSantis unelectable. Dont kid yourself. 

Thrawn 31
Professor Guide
4.2  Thrawn 31  replied to  Greg Jones @4    2 months ago

If Trump is the nominee Biden can absolutely win. 

Professor Principal
5  Kavika     2 months ago

Yesterday Trump started by warning the Republicans not to mess with SS.

Thrawn 31
Professor Guide
6  Thrawn 31    2 months ago

Trump is gonna make life miserable for DeSanits, and even if he doesn’t win the nomination there is about a 99% chance Trump runs as a third party or otherwise tries to sabotage him. I don’t think DeSanits will have a better opportunity than now though, and that really depends on how much Biden fucks up over the next couple years and how utterly worthless and out of touch the GOP house proves to be.

Under those circumstances even Joe would win re-election. For once the Dems MIGHT be smart and run someone not named Biden, but these are the Democrats we are talking about. 

Professor Principal
7  seeder  JohnRussell    2 months ago

Notice the lack of right wing comments on this article. They want to maintain the fantasy that Trump will step aside for DeSantis. Good luck with that. 

Drinker of the Wry
Sophomore Principal
7.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  JohnRussell @7    2 months ago
Notice the lack of right wing comments on this article.

What sort of comments do you want to see?

Professor Principal
7.1.1  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @7.1    2 months ago

Not that one. 

Professor Principal
7.2  Texan1211  replied to  JohnRussell @7    2 months ago

maybe we just recognize the article for what its worth.

Greg Jones
Professor Guide
7.3  Greg Jones  replied to  JohnRussell @7    2 months ago

No he won't step aside....but he won't end up being the nominee.


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