A timeline of Donald Trump’s rivalry with Ron DeSantis

Florida governor and ex-president went from allies to enemies over the last two years

Joe Sommerlad,Ariana Baio
Tuesday 05 December 2023 19:36 GMT
Donald Trump nicknames Florida governor Ron DeSantis ‘Ron DeSanctimonious’

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Louise Thomas

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A shaky start to Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign has continued to disappoint even though he was predicted to be ex-president Donald Trump’s primary challenger for the Republican nomination.

Mr DeSantis has seemingly failed to rise to the occasion of challenging Mr Trump after months of an increasingly tense back-and-forth.

But there was a time when the two got along swimmingly.

During his own tenure in the White House in 2018, Mr Trump loudly cheered Mr DeSantis’s bid for the governor’s mansion, throwing his weight behind the former congressman and appearing at rallies to stump for him.

But as Mr DeSantis rose through the ranks and was soon perceived as a potential 2024 candidate, Mr Trump changed his tune.

The ex-president has yelled a steady stream of insults and barbed nicknames, most of which Mr DeSantis wisely allowed to pass without public comment, though in more recent months he’s returned a comeback.

Here is a timeline of their disintegrating relationship

17 November 2018

Mr DeSantis is elected governor of Florida, defeating Democrat Andrew Gillum.

Mr Trump, who had campaigned for Mr DeSantis in person and on Twitter, loudly celebrated his victory as the latest demonstration of his own power and influence.

11 March 2020

After a relatively quiet first year in the governor’s mansion, Mr DeSantis faces a major crisis when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced Covid-19 was spreading rapidly.

While Mr Trump bungles the federal response to the crisis, making empty promises about reopening, openly speculating that injecting bleach might provide a cure and eventually contracting the coronavirus himself one month before Election Day, Mr DeSantis recognises opposition to masks and social restrictions as a culture war flashpoint and uses the mood to his political advantage.

“We’re not shutting down, we’re gonna go forward, we’re gonna continue to protect the most vulnerable,” he said in a speech in June.

“Particularly when you have a virus that disproportionately impacts one segment of society, to suppress a lot of working-age people at this point I don’t think would likely be very effective.”

20 January 2021

Joe Biden succeeds Mr Trump as president, forcing the ex-president to leave DC two weeks after his false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen ended with the Capitol riot.

Disgraced, discredited, twice-impeached and banned from social media, Mr Trump slinks off back to his Palm Beach estate, while the same state’s governor continues to make a name for himself, capitalising on his pandemic popularity among Republicans by eventually taking on LGBT+ rights and the might of the Walt Disney Corporation, cheered on by a movement looking for a less contaminated and compromised alternative to Mr Trump, who can only look on with envy.

29 April 2021

Mr Trump tells Maria Baritromo on Fox Business Network: “He’s a friend of mine. I endorsed Ron, and after I endorsed him, he took off like a rocket ship.”

On the suggestion that Mr DeSantis might make a good successor to Mr Pence as a running mate, Mr Trump answers: “A lot of people like that – you know, I’m just saying what I read and what you read – they love that ticket. But certainly, Ron would be considered. He’s a great guy.”

4 October 2021

Addressing the prospect of having to square up against Mr DeSantis in a future election race, rather than their joining forces, Mr Trump tells Yahoo! Finance he would beat the governor with ease.

“I don’t think I will face him. I think most people would drop out, I think he would drop out,” he says. “If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else. If I do run, I think that I’ll do extremely well.”

For his part, Mr DeSantis tells Fox News: “I’m not considering anything beyond doing my job. We got a lot of stuff going on in Florida.”

21 June 2022

Increasingly bothered by Mr DeSantis’ rise, Mr Trump begins to insist that the former owes his success entirely to his support.

On the prospect of the governor running for the White House, as discussed at length in The New Yorker, its former occupant tells Newsmax: “I don’t know that he wants to run, you know, I have a good relationship with Ron. But I was very responsible for him getting elected, as you know… We’ll see what happens.”

14 September 2022

Mr DeSantis engages in a distinctly Trumpian stunt by sending approximately 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers by air from San Antonio, Texas, to Crestview airport in Florida and then on to the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, a Democratic stronghold.

A piece of provocative political theatre, Mr Trump gripes that he thought of it first.

8 November 2022

The two men hold competing rallies in Florida in the final days before the midterm elections, with Mr Trump debuting his prized “Ron DeSanctimonious” nickname at his event.

But the governor goes on to win re-election in commanding fashion, beating Democrat Charlie Crist by a nearly 20-point margin and drawing in previously untapped support from Latinos and suburban voters.

By contrast, Mr Trump’s preferred candidates lose races across the country from Pennsylvania to Arizona as the widely predicted “red wave” fails to materialise.

11 November 2022

The fallout from the midterms really sets the rivalry simmering, with Mr Trump resorting to suggesting he had deployed the FBI to secure Mr DeSantis’ win over Mr Gillum in 2018.

Taking to Truth Social, Mr Trump calls his rival an “average Republican governor with great public relations” who was “politically dead” until he helped turn his fortunes around.

He writes: “I was all in for Ron, and he beat Gillum, but after the Race, when votes were being stolen by the corrupt Election process in Broward County, and Ron was going down ten thousand votes a day, along with now-Senator Rick Scott, I sent in the FBI and the US attorneys, and the ballot theft immediately ended, just prior to them running out of the votes necessary to win. I stopped his Election from being stolen…”

The post, inevitably, invites calls for the matter to be investigated urgently.

16 November 2022

Mr Trump announces his intention to run again for the US presidency in a low-key televised address from Mar-a-Lago that many feel lacks the energy of his earlier political speeches.

29 January 2023

Continuing to obsessively re-litigate Mr DeSantis’s 2018 gubernatorial win in order to bolster his own role in it, Mr Trump accuses his rival of “trying to rewrite history” over his record in responding to Covid, claiming he had “changed his tune a lot” on the introduction of vaccine mandates.

Speaking to reporters while campaigning in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Mr Trump gripes: “Ron would have not been governor if it wasn’t for me. When I hear that he might [run] I think it’s very disloyal… There are Republican governors that did not close their states. They’re trying to rewrite history.”

8 February 2023

Clearly preparing to get nasty, Mr Trump resorts to amplifying an unfounded smear about Mr DeSantis on Truth Social relating to his short-lived career as a high school teacher in Georgia as a younger man.

18 February 2023

A new nickname, “Meatball Ron”, is reported to have been trialled by Mr Trump, still seeking a way to trash-talk his likely opponent, as he had done so many times before, but this time he unexpectedly denies it is his coinage.

“I will never call Ron DeSanctimonious ‘Meatball’ Ron, as the Fake News is insisting I will,” he raves on Truth Social.

30 April 2023

Responding to Mr DeSantis setting out on a global tour, visiting the UK and Japan in the interest of looking statesmanlike on the world stage, Mr Trump tries a new attack line, saying he “couldn’t care less” if the governor runs against him.

“I couldn’t care less if Ron DeSanctus [sic] runs, but the problem is the Bill he is about to sign, which allows him to run without resigning from being Governor, totally weakens Election Integrity in Florida,” he posted.

16 May 2023

Still searching for that killer attack line, Mr Trump tells The Messenger his political opponent is a “rank amateur”.

“I think the media has said he’s doing a terrible job and he doesn’t know what he’s doing. You know, the media has not been friendly to him. They’re saying that he’s a rank amateur. And you know, he started off fine, but then he hasn’t done very well. You look at the polls.”

Returning to the disloyalty argument, Mr Trump manages to sound genuinely wounded as he complains: “He’s very disloyal. He was a dead man walking. He was dead, dead as a doornail. And I revived him.

In the same interview, he says Florida’s new six-week abortion ban was “too harsh” and likely to alienate voters.

Mr DeSantis responds by arguing: “Protecting an unborn child when there’s a detectable heartbeat is something that almost 99 per cent of pro-lifers support. As a Florida resident, you know, he didn’t give an answer about, ‘Would you have signed the heartbeat bill that Florida did, that had all the exceptions that people talk about?’”

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung came back with: “Ron DeSantis is flailing in the polls and is closer to the bottom of the pack than he is to President Trump, who is dominating in every single poll.”

24 May 2023

Mr DeSantis finally announces his campaign, initially with a 30-second teaser video posted to Twitter by his wife Casey, Mr Trump attempts to hijack his big day by launching into an insult-packed tirade on Truth Social, again calling his rival “disloyal”, declaring that he “desperately needs a personality transplant” and calling him “disciple of horrible RINO Paul Ryan”, the acronym short for “Republican In Name Only”.

Sounding more unhinged than ever, Mr Trump thrashes out the following diatribe in full keyboard warrior mode: “Look, Rob DeSanctimonious came to me asking for help. He was losing badly, by 31 points, to popular Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.”

“He was getting ready to drop out of the race – Ran a terrible campaign! Ron told me he had one last chance, my Support & Endorsement, which Putnam, and everyone else, wanted also. I gave it to Ron, and the race was over. In one day, he went from losing badly, to winning by a lot. With 3 LARGE TRUMP RALLIES, he WON THE GENERAL ELECTION in an upset. DISLOYAL!!!”

26 May 2023

At the start of his official campaign, Mr DeSantis criticises Mr Trump claiming he is soft on crime and immigration.

1 June 2023

In response to the myriad of nicknames Mr Trump has bestowed, Mr DeSantis opens up to a New Hampshire radio station about what he really thinks of Mr Trump’s attacks.

“I think it’s so petty,” Mr DeSantis said. “I think it’s so juvenile.”

He added: “Honestly, I think that his conduct, which he’s been doing for years now, I think that’s one of the reasons he’s not in the White House now.”

The Florida governor also points out that Mr Trump’s attacks on his handling of Covid-19 are false.

“He’s saying governor Andrew Cuomo in New York handled Covid better than Florida did under my leadership, and yet people fled Cuomo’s lockdowns to come to Florida by the tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands,” Mr DeSantis said.

21 June 2023

Mr Trump’s campaign launches an attack ad attacking against Mr DeSantis claiming he shut down Florida during the early days of the pandemic.

“LOCKDOWN RON – FAILED FLORIDA!” The caption of the video reads.

29 June 2023

As Mr DeSantis begins to trail behind Mr Trump in the polls, the ex-president takes the opportunity to declare Mr DeSantis’ campaign “dead.”

"His polls are dropping like a rock heading to Hell,” Mr Trump wrote.

28 July 2023

At the Republican Lincoln Day dinner in Iowa, Mr Trump tells a crowd of people “not to take a chance” on Mr DeSantis who he continuously refers to as “DeSanctus”

7 August 2023

Mr DeSantis stomps on Mr Trump where it hurts – election fraud claims.

Just days after Mr Trump pleads not guilty to federal election interference charges, Mr DeSantis confirms Mr Trump lost in the 2020 election and Mr Biden is the president.

“Of course he lost," Mr DeSantis said to NBC News.

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