Donald Trump on Saturday avoided suggestions of a rift between himself and Ron DeSantis after the Florida governor missed his rally in Sarasota, insisting he had told the rising Republican star to stay in Miami to deal with the Surfside condo collapse.
Trump threw a rally for thousands of supporters 200 miles from the wreckage of the Champlain Towers South condo, where 24 have been confirmed dead and 121 remain missing.
Aides to DeSantis and Trump were forced this week to deny that the Florida governor had asked the former president to postpone his rally while work continued to find survivors and victims at the disaster site.
And before taking to the stage in Sarasota, Trump told Newsmax that he had spoken to DeSantis – a potential 2024 rival – and had told him not to attend the event.
He said: ‘We mutually agreed. He is working very hard. He is doing a very good job. He should be there.
‘I told him: “You should stay there, this is not that important for you”. He of all people should be there.’
According to the Washington Examiner, DeSantis’s office earlier this week ‘made a direct plea’ for Trump to call off his rally after the tragedy.
Then-President Donald Trump introduces Governor Ron DeSantis during a rally in 2019
Trump threw a rally for thousands of supporters on Saturday night, 200 miles away from the Surfside condo collapse
An anonymous source close to Trump told the Washington Examiner that ‘nobody wants to cancel’ the rally.
‘The governor is getting tested here as to how far he’s going to be pushed before he breaks ranks with President Trump. And he has to be very careful because this is Trump country,’ the source told the Washington Examiner. ‘The base loves the president. But they equally love Ron. It’s a showdown going on right now.’
The two men are eying each others’ 2024 campaign plans and Democrats are eagerly seizing on any sign of a split.
Every move that Trump makes is being viewed through a 2024 lens and opponents believe DeSantis’s national prominence has irked the former president.
‘Ron has had a good few months, reopening Florida and being seen on the national stage managing the Surfside collapse,’ said a 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.’
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.’
Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the media about the Champlain Towers South condo disaster
Trump arrived in Florida 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.
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 Joe Biden’s visit to Florida, triggered the sort of glowing coverage of the Florida governor that the mainstream media never afforded Trump.
‘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.
White House officials went out of their way to thank DeSantis after President Biden visited the scene of the Surfside condo disaster
‘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.’