The Trump-DeSantis rivalry is growing more personal and crude as the GOP candidates head to Florida.

By | November 4, 2023

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — For Saturday afternoons

Former president Donald Trump expands support in Florida as he seeks to bury presidential ambitions Governor Ron DeSantis in their common State of origin.

In recent days, Trump has been supported by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and state lawmaker Randy Fine, a longtime DeSantis ally who has advised him on Israel. He would already have garnered support from the majority of state Republicans in Congress. And other Florida Republicans may soon follow.

DeSantis is still a powerful governor who adopted policies long sought by conservatives and moved a traditional swing state further and further to the right. But as the early primary nominating contests draw closer, DeSantis is far behind in the 2024 race and is running a Trump campaign focused not only on securing the nomination but also on embarrassing him in his home state. origin and at the national level.

“Weakening DeSantis’ standing in Florida is a clear goal of the Trump campaign,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “His whole message is based on the idea that he is a great governor. When Florida Republican officials choose Trump over DeSantis, it significantly weakens DeSantis’s rhetoric.”

Trump and DeSantis will be among the Republican candidates speaking Saturday at the Florida Freedom Summit, hosted by the state Republican Party at an Orlando-area convention center. Scott, Fine and four members of the U.S. House of Representatives who have already declared their support for Trump are also expected to speak.

Four days later, DeSantis will join several candidates for the third Republican debate in Miami. Trump will once again skip the debate to host his own event in nearby suburban Hialeah, complete with his own “spin room,” competing with the traditional post-debate meeting where reporters do interviews after the debates.

Initially expected to be Trump’s main rival after winning re-election by a wide margin last November, DeSantis had a hard time since he launched his campaign in May. He is far behind in the race. A Des Moines Register poll released Monday found him tied in Iowa with Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who served as United Nations ambassador under Trump. Both were 16%, 27 percentage points lower than the former president.

Trump called DeSantis disloyal for running against him and his campaign has mocked DeSantis’ laughter and interactions with voters for weeks. DeSantis responded by emphasizing Trump’s gaffes and suggesting that the former president no longer has the same energy as he once did.

Their exchanges in recent days have become more crude. Trump allies have made headlines suggesting DeSantis wears high-tops in his boots. DeSantis told Newsmax that if “Donald Trump can get the balls together to show up for the debate, I’ll wear a boot to the head.”

DeSantis’ super PAC then began selling a set of golf balls with the inscription “Ron DeSantis has a pair.” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung responded: “Ron DeSantis is so broke he has to sell his balls to strangers so he can pay the rent and keep the lights on.”

The campaign’s references to the male anatomy are reminiscent of another Floridian’s failed attempt against Trump. Rubio joked in 2016 about Trump’s “little hands” in response to Trump’s personal attacks. He would drops out of race after losing Florida primary.

State Party Members gave Trump a symbolic victory in September, when they voted against requiring candidates in Florida’s primary to pledge support for the eventual nominee in order to run next March. Trump has refused to make a similar commitment required for candidates to participate in national GOP debates.

Joe Gruters, a former state party chairman and one of the few Republican lawmakers in Florida to support Trump, said he expected additional support from Florida officials but stressed the risks for those who choose to go against DeSantis, given that he will. remain governor for the next three years.

“It takes real courage for any member to turn around at this point or speak out publicly,” he said, since state lawmakers “need to go back and serve their communities.” He accused DeSantis of being “vindictive” against those who chose to support Trump.

As a result, he said: “A lot of people are still afraid to go out. »

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Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed from New York.

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