Trump has kicked around staging a large, flashy launch rally (with fireworks, of course) that would announce his White House bid before the 2022 midterm elections, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
People who’ve spoken to Trump say that one reason he’s eying the Sunshine State is to assert his dominance over an ascendant DeSantis, who — if they both run in 2024 — would likely be the former president’s most formidable competitor in a primary fight for the GOP nomination. One of the sources said Trump’s motivation is to show the governor “who the boss is” in the modern-day GOP.
Trump, the sources say, has even asked some associates if they had opinions on any good venues or event spaces — that just happen to be located close to the Florida’s Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.
“One time that he did bring up the Florida [launch] scenario was quickly followed by him commenting on how terrible DeSantis was at public speaking and commanding an audience … [and that he’s] lacking in so much charisma and he’s so boring that Florida Republicans would leave Ron immediately for Trump [in a 2024 match-up],” says a person who has spoken to Trump about DeSantis on multiple occasions. (There is evidence that this may not be true, with some polling showing that more Florida Republicans would back DeSantis over Trump in a hypothetical primary.)
According to this person and another source with direct knowledge of the topic, Trump has also taken to telling those around him that DeSantis is “overrated” — or, even, “very overrated!” — and assuring advisers he’d easily crush the Florida governor.
Gov. DeSantis’ press office did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment on this story. Trump’s spokesperson declined to comment on the record.
Though Trump has mostly stayed publicly coy about his 2024 intentions, he has privately told an array of associates, political allies, and advisers that he intends to run, or wants to run, against Joe Biden in the next presidential contest. Obviously, he is interested enough in the prospect of reconquering the White House, to the point that he’s actively brainstorming on different campaign-launch schemes. However, not only has no launch date or location been finalized, but Trump lieutenants are fond of reminding others he hasn’t made a “final” decision on another campaign, and that whatever commitment he has to a 2024 bid could easily change in the coming months. DeSantis, for his part, is also keeping publicly tight-lipped about his long-term, or short-term, presidential ambitions.
Various Republicans in Trump’s orbit have pleaded with him to hold off on formally announcing a 2024 campaign, at least until after the 2022 midterm elections have wrapped. They have also repeatedly reminded Trump that, due to campaign-finance law, actually announcing a run would immediately evaporate the current fundraising and financial advantages that he and his political operation currently enjoys while he’s — technically — a non-candidate. But the former president’s recurring desire to declare earlier than that is largely motivated by an urge to throw a Trump-sized wrench into the presidential shadow-campaigns of his fellow Republican bigwigs.
At first glance, Florida might seem like a quintessentially Trumpian pick for an official start of his next White House blitz, should he choose to give his mission of revenge against President Biden one more shot. Trump — a twice-impeached former president who still remains as the undisputed leader of the GOP and the party’s most popular figure — staged his 2020 launch rally in Orlando. He officially resides in Florida, and his Palm Beach club and estate Mar-a-Lago has become an epicenter of Republican strategy sessions, fundraising, and ring-kissing during his post-presidency. And the ex-leader of the free world is still solidly popular with Sunshine State. But with all things Trump, there’s an ulterior motive based on scaring off, or sending thinly veiled warnings to, potential challengers.
Despite Trump and his close allies’ attempts since early last year to intimidate other top-tier Republican politicians from running to thwart Biden’s reelection — or, at least, their attempts to get GOP talent to promise Trump that they will not run if Trump chooses to — various conservatives are now all but openly testing the 2024 waters, in defiance of the “MAGA king.” These include Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), DeSantis, as well as senior veterans of the Trump administration such as Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo.
“According to our last national poll, Republican primary voters would support President Trump 83-14 and in a field of 13 potential opponents no one comes close,” John McLaughlin, a top Trump pollster, tells Rolling Stone. “Trump 57 percent. DeSantis 15 percent. Everyone else [is at] single digits.”
But even with Trump’s mammoth standing among the conservative movement, the party, and the GOP’s zealous base of voters, his possible primary rivals-in-waiting are sensing openings and vulnerabilities that simply were not there before. Within the Republican donor class, there is a rapidly ballooning appetite for contenders with names like, for instance, “DeSantis” to author the future of the party of Trump.
The former president and current GOP leader, of course, isn’t willing to give up his iron grip on his party — not without a painful power struggle first.
“DeSantis is a newer, fresher face. The age difference between DeSantis and Biden would show a contrast between young and old that would cut across party lines,” insists Dan Eberhart, chief executive at Canary and a major donor to Republicans and, in the past, to Trump. “Trump’s profile is large but we did [lose] both the House and Senate under his watch.”
Eberhart adds: “I would reluctantly give to Trump [again] if he was the nominee but I am hoping the next nominee’s initials are not DJT.”