Donald Trump and his team appear to be embracing new levels of discipline and organization, when it comes to one task at least: trashing Ron DeSantis.
Politico reports that both Trump's campaign and an allied PAC are doing serious opposition research on the Florida governor, who is expected to be Trump's major 2024 presidential primary rival. They're planning to accuse him of having been an "extremely lenient prosecutor" during his time as a special assistant U.S. attorney, and are looking closely at his record while in Congress and as governor. And MAGA Inc., a Trump-supporting super PAC, has filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics calling for an investigation of DeSantis for “leveraging his elected office and breaching his associated duties in a coordinated effort to develop his national profile, enrich himself and his political allies, and influence the national electorate.” (Which seems like a desperate move, to be honest, since just about any governor contemplating a run for president leverages their elected office to develop their national profile.)
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This move comes as some former Trump loyalists are defecting to DeSantis. Tom Marino, a former congressman who co-chaired Trump's 2015 Pennsylvania campaign, went on the record with Politico trashing Trump and talking up DeSantis.
About Trump, Marino said, "I’d put him up there with Ronald Reagan on policy, but presidentially he was a disaster the way he acted, the calling people names." Marino has now noticed, “He’s just not a nice person. […] If he thinks he had trouble getting elected before, there are more and more people out there across the country who said I was for him the first time, the second time, but what’s going on and his problems I don’t think I can support him.”
DeSantis, on the other hand, "doesn’t need to promote himself,” Marino said. “He’s a leader. He doesn’t call people names. He doesn’t make fun of women. That’s an easy one. I truly meant Trump was a genius on policy and he really blew it. I told him about it. He knows it all.”
Such defections—and Marino is far from alone—seem like the kind of thing that would alarm Team Trump. That said, any opposition research on DeSantis' policy positions is going to have to be translated into Trumpese–Trump's advisers don't want him trying to remember policy specifics when attacking on broad themes is so much more his thing. The nicknames Trump and his inner circle are workshopping for DeSantis seem more on brand. Trump has dismissed "Meatball Ron" as "too crude," although "Tiny D" apparently remains in the running as a non-crude alternative. Trump's favorite, though, remains "Ron DeSanctimonious," or "DeSanctus" for short.
Some of the policy stuff will fit Trump's favored attack style, though. He has already described DeSantis as "the man who wants to cut Social Security and Medicare"--which is true, or at least was when DeSantis found it politically advantageous to support privatizing the programs, though he's backpedaled more recently. Campaigning in Iowa on Monday, Trump returned to that theme, saying DeSantis "wanted to decimate [Social Security] and voted against it."
"A lot of people don't know that. I think they've been finding out over the last four weeks. One of the reasons that we're zooming in the polls, perhaps," Trump said. "He also voted to severely cut Medicare. I will not be adding Medicare and I will not be cutting Social Security."
As that attack indicates, Trump also remained preoccupied with poll numbers, or at least the ones that favor him. "The publications said Trump still has really high approval ratings with the Republican voter base is defeating Ron DeSantis in poll after poll by a lot and I'm beating Joe Biden by a lot—very important," he told his audience in Davenport, Iowa.
Trump definitely sounds threatened, which means he's probably going to be even meaner than usual. It'll be interesting to see whether the Republican base continues to eat that up, or if DeSantis manages to gain real traction despite the attacks that were so successful against Trump's 2016 rivals.
Judd Legum is the founder and author of Popular Information, an independent newsletter dedicated to accountability journalism. Judd joins Markos and Kerry to talk about the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against Fox News and the recent revelations of behind-the-scenes deceit practiced by everyone from on-air host Tucker Carlson, to the owner of it all, Rupert Murdoch.