In recent months, Donald Trump has told confidants that he may launch his presidential campaign for 2024 early — and that he’s considering doing it in Florida to smear Gov. Ron DeSantis.
According to three persons familiar with the situation, Trump has discussed holding a massive, spectacular launch rally (complete with pyrotechnics) to announce his White House run before the 2022 midterm elections, as per Yahoo reported.
One reason Trump is eyeing Florida is to demonstrate his authority over an ascendant DeSantis, who, if they both run for president in 2024, would likely be the former president’s most difficult opponent in a primary struggle for the GOP nomination. Trump’s motivation, according to one source, is to show the governor “who the boss is” in the modern-day GOP.
According to the sources, Trump has even asked some of his allies for suggestions for good locations or event spaces near the Florida 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.)
Trump has also taken to telling those around him that DeSantis is “overrated” — or even “very overrated!” — and assuring advisers that he’d simply destroy the Florida governor, according to one person and another source with firsthand knowledge of the situation.
Governor DeSantis’ press office did not reply to a request for comment on this article from Rolling Stone. On the record, Trump’s spokesperson declined to comment.
Though Trump has largely remained silent about his plans for 2024, he has privately told a number of colleagues, political allies, and advisers that he intends to run, or wants to run, against Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. He’s obviously excited about the potential of reclaiming the White House to the point where he’s already planning different campaign launch tactics.
Not only has no launch date or site been set, but Trump’s advisers are fond of reminding everyone that he hasn’t made a “final” decision on another campaign and that whatever commitment he has to a 2024 run could change in the coming months. DeSantis, for one, is laying low when it comes to his long-term or short-term presidential ambitions.
Several Republicans in Trump’s inner circle have pleaded with him to delay formally announcing a 2024 campaign at least until the midterm elections in 2022 are over. They’ve also reminded Trump that announcing a run would immediately remove the current fundraising and financial advantages he and his political operation have while he’s — officially — a non-candidate, owing to campaign finance laws.
However, the former president’s repeated desire to announce sooner than that is mostly motivated by a desire to throw a Trump-sized wrench into the presidential shadow campaigns of his Republican colleagues.
At first sight, Florida appears to be a quintessential Trump choice for the official start of his second White House blitz, should he decide to pursue his revenge mission against Vice President Joe Biden once more. Trump, a twice-impeached former president who is still the GOP’s uncontested leader and most popular figure, held his 2020 campaign launch rally in Orlando.
His Palm Beach club and estate Mar-a-Lago has become a hub of Republican strategy sessions, fundraising, and ring-kissing throughout his post-presidential tenure. And the former leader of the free world continues to enjoy widespread public support in Florida. But, as with everything Trump, there’s a hidden agenda aimed at scaring off or delivering barely veiled warnings to, potential supporters.
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 the very least, their attempts to get GOP talent to promise Trump that they will not run if Trump chooses to — a number of conservatives are now openly testing the waters in 2024, trying to defy the “MAGA king.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark. ), DeSantis, and senior Trump administration officials like Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo are among them.
“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.”
Even with Trump’s immense popularity within the conservative movement, the Republicans, and the GOP’s ardent base of supporters, his potential primary opponents are seeing opportunities and vulnerabilities that were previously unnoticed. Within the Republican donor class, there is a rapidly growing hunger for people with names like “DeSantis” to write the future of Trump’s party.
Of course, the former president and current GOP leader aren’t willing to cede leadership of his party without a bloody power fight beforehand.
“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.”