Here’s a superb example of Trump forcing his fans to decide whether to trust him or their lying eyes. From last night’s Hannity:
— The Columbia Bugle 🇺🇸 (@ColumbiaBugle) January 21, 2022
Throw out the recent Axios report that Trump has been badmouthing DeSantis privately, irked that he won’t pledge that he’ll stand aside in 2024 if Trump chooses to run. Toss out the Maggie Haberman story in the Times reporting the same thing. Chuck the Daily Beast article also reporting the same thing. And ignore Mark Meadows going on Newsmax to remind his friend Ron DeSantis that the GOP is and will remain Donald Trump’s party.
What are we left with? We’re left with this:
Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo: “Have you gotten the booster?”
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL): "So, uh, I've done, whatever I did. The normal shot. And that at the end of the day is peoples' individual decisions about what they want to do." pic.twitter.com/AJ6XF8UN5V
— The Recount (@therecount) December 19, 2021
That’s DeSantis appearing on one of Trump’s favorite networks in December, on a show hosted by one of Trump’s most loyal cronies in the media, uncharacteristically resorting to word salad when asked if he’d been boosted. Trump certainly watched that interview, probably live.
Three weeks later, during his surprising media tour to promote the vaccines, he responded:
TRUMP says “I've had the booster,” and says he’s seen politicians asked the same, but dodge.
“The answer is yes, but they don't want to say it. Because they're gutless… Whether you had it or not. Say it.”
"The vaccine has saved tens of millions of people throughout the world." pic.twitter.com/LgFHT6l180
— Tim Hogan (@timjhogan) January 12, 2022
He didn’t have the nerve to say DeSantis’s name but there’s no question who he meant. No other politician has been publicly coy about their booster status, let alone during an interview that Trump likely would have seen. That was a shot aimed straight at the new guy from Florida. A hard shot too, since “gutless” is stern criticism coming from a man who obsesses about “strength” in every facet of life.
If Trump wanted to convincingly pretend that media reports of him dogging DeSantis are “fake news,” he probably shouldn’t have dogged DeSantis about the vaccines on live television 10 days ago.
The fact that he won’t cop to trash-talking DeSantis behind his back is interesting, though, in that it suggests uncertainty on Trump’s part that he’d easily squash his opponent if he picked a fight with him. And for good reason:
And, much to Trump’s chagrin, no one has better exploited the opportunity to be seen as a “Trump alternative” in 2024 than GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis. While Trump has been sidelined, the Florida Governor has been busy building up a national fundraising base, a political portfolio and national profile. My colleague, David Wasserman wrote about a conversation he had with a GOP strategist whose organization is privately poll-testing Trump against DeSantis in an imaginary 2024 presidential primary. The group, Wasserman writes, has found Trump’s lead over the GOP Governor varies from 25 points in the Deep South to single digits in the Midwest, with a tie among GOP voters familiar with both.
It’s been embarrassing watching some resort to the spin that stories about a Trump/DeSantis feud are a media ploy to “divide the right” rather than a simple acknowledgment of a simple political fact, that both men want to run for president in 2024 and it’s not clear how Republicans would react if they made their conflict plain. It may be (and probably will be) that DeSantis will ultimately stand aside for Trump, but there’s not the slightest doubt that he’d run for president with gusto if Trump weren’t in the picture. They’re rivals necessarily, by dint of their situation. Go figure that they might not be paying each other compliments behind closed doors.
And in Trump’s case, at least, it’s not as if the idea of him insulting a political rival is an outlandish allegation not in keeping with his deportment.
There are two ways Republicans can react to his rivalry with DeSantis. One, demonstrated by righties as far apart as Rich Lowry and Kurt Schlichter, is to recognize it and start considering which candidate would be preferable as nominee. The other is to huff about fake news because the Republican imperative to hero-worship both men makes the thought of them being at odds intolerable. They can’t be sniping at each other; they’re our commanding generals against the left!
They’re politicians. They have designs on the same office. If Trump isn’t ready to smack-talk DeSantis publicly yet, just give him a few months.
Speaking of “gutless,” DeSantis was asked again today about his booster status and again couldn’t muster a straight answer:
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is directly asked again whether he’s received his COVID booster shot:
“So that's something that I think people should make their own decisions on. I’m not gonna let that be a weapon for people to be able to use. I think it's a private matter …” pic.twitter.com/3GT2jkWda5
— The Recount (@therecount) January 21, 2022
As others have noted, it makes no sense for him to claim that getting boosted is a private matter when he publicly acknowledged having gotten vaccinated last year. There’s nothing about the booster that’s more “personal” than the initial doses were; the only thing that’s changed between then and now is the politics, with DeSantis reacting to the emergence of a large anti-vax Republican minority over the past year by taking care not to seem too pro-vaccine. He’s playing a cynical game here, one even Trump isn’t willing to play. We’ll see if Trump has anything new to say about “gutless” politicians next week.