In a preview of a potential Republican presidential showdown, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis will hold dueling rallies in Florida on Sunday as the two men compete for the supremacy of the Sunshine State and the heart of the GOP.
The former president will welcome supporters to Miami, the third stop in a four-city tour that has effectively made Trump a leading player in his party’s struggle for control of Congress. Meanwhile, the Florida governor will headline his own events in three counties on the other coast of the state — Hillsborough, Sarasota and Lee — staying well away from Trump as he seeks to close his second term bid.
For the past two years, Trump and DeSantis have lived side by side on opposite sides of Florida — Trump plotted his next move from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, and DeSantis built himself into a household name in the state capital in Tallahassee. But as these midterm elections draw to a close and a decision on their political future is imminent, even on a 450-mile peninsula, it has become increasingly difficult for the two to avoid each other.
“We have two very stubborn, very type-A politicians in Florida who are on the tail end of the spear for the GOP,” said a Republican official who asked not to be named. “They both attract attention, but they both have their own political operations and that’s what you see. It’s exhausting to talk about it.”
The long-dormant rivalry has come to the fore in the weeks leading up to election day. At a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, Trump took a direct swipe at DeSantis and christened a new nickname for the governor, while calling himself the frontrunner in a hypothetical GOP primary.
“There it is, Trump at 71 (percent), Ron DeSanctimonious at 10 percent,” Trump told the crowd as he read alleged poll numbers from a screen.
DeSantis recently backed Republican businessman and Colorado Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, as O’Dea pledged in October to “actively campaign” against Trump.
“A BIG MISTAKE!” Trump wrote in response to his Truth Social platform.
Trump followed suit by sharing a clip of former Fox News host Megyn Kelly who predicted that GOP voters would remain firmly in Trump’s camp if DeSantis decided to challenge the former president in a Republican presidential primary. CNN reported Friday that Trump could launch his next presidential bid as early as this month.
But scheduling competing events in Florida two days before a momentous election day is especially illustrative of how fraught relations between the former allies have become. Unlike other potential contenders for 2024, DeSantis has not refused to run against Trump in a primary, much to Trump’s anger. DeSantis, meanwhile, believes such a concession would undermine his efforts to keep focus on his current reelection race rather than what may lie ahead, CNN previously reported. DeSantis and his campaign have declined to publicly discuss his plans beyond the midterm, but in a recent debate he declined to comment on whether he plans to serve a four-year term if reelected.
If they do go head to head in a primary, the two candidates could be on similar financial footing. DeSantis has raised $200 million through his two political committees this campaign cycle and spent just over half that, leaving about $90 million in potential seed money for a Super PAC. At the end of October, Trump was sitting on about $117 million between his three active fundraising vehicles, according to federal election data.
Trump’s pre-election journey is motivated at least in part by his desire to launch a third White House campaign, CNN reported this week. Indeed, during a visit to Iowa on Thursday, Trump told voters in the first-in-the-nation caucus state to “prepare” for his return as a presidential candidate. Trump stopped in Pennsylvania on Saturday — home to the tight Senate race between his supporter Republican Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman — and he will spend election night in Ohio, where the former president supported Republican JD Vance in the Senate race against Democrat Tim. Ryan.
But planning a rally in Florida was also widely seen as a shot across the board for DeSantis. Trump first announced his intention to hold a rally for US Senator Marco Rubio in South Florida last week, leaving DeSantis noticeably outside his plans. Since then, the list of guest speakers has expanded to include junior state senator Rick Scott, as well as a dozen other elected officials and candidates from across the state.
The decision to hold the rally in Miami-Dade County comes as Republicans are optimistic they will carry the one-time Democratic stronghold for the first time in two decades. Investments by Republicans to penetrate the area’s Hispanic neighborhoods have paid off in recent elections, and the party is seeing a surge of enthusiasm that is giving the state a deeper red tint. Republicans will have an advantage in voter registration on Election Day for the first time in Florida’s modern political history.
Before his arrival, Trump was already given credit for that turnaround.
“President Trump created a historic red wave in Florida during the 2018 midterm elections with his list of approved candidates up and down in the ballot, shaping the Sunshine State into the MAGA stronghold it is today,” Trump’s announcement said. Save America PAC. “Thanks to President Trump, Florida is no longer a purple state; it’s an America First Red State.”
While DeSantis began his own out-of-state campaign circuit for Republican candidates, including a recent rally in New York for GOP Governor nominee Lee Zeldin, he is spending the final days of the race against Democrat Charlie Crist in Florida. His campaign had 13 scheduled events between Friday and Monday. On the final day, DeSantis has scheduled stops in Palm Beach, Trump’s adopted homeland, and in Miami-Dade, not far from Trump’s Sunday event.
During the campaign, DeSantis doesn’t talk about Trump, but his comments are laced with frequent mentions of President Joe Biden in a taste of what a presidential campaign against the incumbent Democrat might look like.
At an event Thursday in Central Florida, DeSantis called Biden “King Midas in reverse.”
“Biden touches it and turns into something much worse than (gold),” DeSantis said. “It’s frustrating and a lot of people, the vast majority of Americans, think the country is past its prime. They think we are clearly on the wrong track. But you know, I think Florida provides the blueprint for other states to follow.”