President Trump returns to Florida on Saturday to hold a rally in Sarasota, following a turbulent week of indictments and reports that he is at loggerheads withe Ron DeSantis, the state’s governor and a possible rival for the Republican nomination in 2024.
The two men eying each others campaign plans, Democrats are eagerly seizing on any sign of a split and when DeSantis sat down with President Biden on Thursday for a briefing on a collapsed seaside condo, Trump’s loyal base accused the Florida governor or selling out.
‘Ron has had a good few months, reopening Florida and being seen on the national stage managing the Surfside collapse,’ said an strategist who knows both men.
‘You can bet he is being careful about not upsetting Trump, who is putting together a huge war chest and is still the biggest name around.’
Former President Trump heads to Florida on Saturday, his adopted home state, for a campaign-style rally. Gov Ron DeSantis will not be there as he continues to focus on the search and rescue operation in Surfside
DeSantis allies dismissed reports of a split, saying the two men remain close allies. But DeSantis is a rising star who generated glowing headlines during the past week for his work leading the rescue operation, and triggering anger among some Trump supporters
Trump returned to the campaign trail last Saturday night, holding a ‘revenge’ rally in Ohio on behalf of a former aide who’s running against a GOP congressman who voted for the ex-president’s impeachment
Former President Donald Trump addresses the crowd outside of Cleveland, Ohio on Saturday evening as he returns to the campaign trail to stump for a former staffer of his who’s running for Congress
Trump aides were forced to deny they had been asked to postpone Saturday’s campaign-style rally, amid reports DeSantis’s team asked for a delay while the state was still recovering bodies from the collapsed building.
But advisers and former staff close to the two Republican figureheads say reports of tensions are overblown.
‘It’s a media creation,’ said Sam Nunberg, Trump’s former campaign adviser.
‘People are just looking for splits that don’t exist.’
Trump arrives with his own problems. His company and its chief financial officer were charged with 15 crimes this week in connection with alleged tax fraud and amid signs of weakening popularity within his own party
Saturday will provide a chance to connect with his loyal base and soak up their energy, say his allies.
DeSantis will not be at the rally. But that doesn’t mean there is a split, said Helen Aguirre Ferre, executive director of the Florida Republican Party and a former communications director for the governor.
‘Any idea of a rift comes from anonymous sources who don’t put their names on the records is pretty tell-tale,’ she said.
‘If it was well-founded information they should go on the record.’
Two weeks ago, DeSantis bested Trump 74-71 in the annual Western Conservative Summit’s straw poll in Denver. A year earlier, Trump won the poll with almost 95 percent of the vote.
DeSantis is frequently spoken about as a 2024 nominee. And at 42 he represents a new generation of leader while Trump would be 78 if he runs again.
Some saw a slight when Trump recently said he would consider DeSantis as a running mate, as if to suggest he was not up to the top job.
And Biden’s visit to Florida, triggered the sort of glowing coverage of the Florida governor that the mainstream media never afforded Trump.
Biden touched the hand of DeSantis as he said: ‘You know what’s good about this? We’re letting the nation know we can cooperate.’
‘It’s an unconscious and uninhibited show of a shared humanity,’ said the Miami Herald, describing a widely shared image of the president touching the governor’s hand.
‘It’s a natural, but still remarkable, gesture that we hope will set tone for the challenging steps ahead.’
White House officials went out of their way to thank DeSantis for his welcome.
‘President Biden and his administration have been working hand-in-hand with state and local partners in response to the tragedy in Surfside – including with Governor DeSantis and his team,’ said Michael Gwin, White House rapid response director.
‘We’re appreciative of the Governor’s warm welcome to Florida on Thursday and we will continue working in close coordination as we ensure state and local officials have everything they need from the federal government.’
And the visit triggered a string of stories about Biden trying to woo a Trump ally.
But Trump’s red meat base took umbrage. In a slew of angry social media posts they dismissed DeSantis as a ‘Trojan corpse’ and accused him of sitting next to a fraud.
The glowing coverage was met with an outpouring of anger among some Trump supporters who took to social media to condemn DeSantis for sitting down with President Biden
Opponents have spotted an opening to disrupt Republican planning and drive a wedge between the two.
A new political action committee to spoil DeSantis 2022 reelection campaign has released an advert depicting him as a threat to the former president.
‘He was a nobody, Donald, a rookie congressman,’ runs the advert by the Remove Ron PAC. ‘Then, you made him governor of America’s third largest state.
‘Now, Ron’s beating you in the race for president.’
But people who understand the two men see a different game developing. Neither wants a head-on clash, they say.
Nunberg, who was taken on by Trump when he first considered entering politics in 2011, said he has seen the former president’s playbook before.
When he considered running for New York governor almost a decade ago he made an offer to the other Republican contender, Rob Astorino.
‘He said to Rob, I’ll run and I’ll just make you lieutenant governor,’ said Nunberg.
‘What I assume is, if Trump runs in 2024 – and I think it’s more likely that he will – he won’t want a contested primary and I think ultimately he’ll name Ron his VP from the beginning so they can start a campaign against Biden.
‘It may not be what Ron wants… but he’ll have to think about it.’