Trump wants to end DeSantis’ 2024 campaign before it even begins

WASHINGTON – Former president Donald Trump is girding to take a swing at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on the two things his chief rival is proudest of: his handling of Covid-19 and his state’s economy.

In conversations with Trump campaign advisers and allies, the strategy they have developed is to bury Mr DeSantis’ expected presidential campaign before it begins. On Friday, Mr DeSantis speaks to the Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary summit outside Washington, and Trump will address Republicans later that night in Mr DeSantis’s home state.

Trump, according to his allies, will use the occasion to remind local officials how he turned some swing states red in 2016 and also try to muddy up the brightest parts of the governor’s record.

A new Wall Street Journal poll Friday showed Trump gaining on his opponent. A head-to-head matchup points to Trump having 51 per cent of support among Republican primary voters, compared with 38 per cent for Mr DeSantis.

“With Trump surging in the polls gaining having a massive amount of focus, this is the opportunity to re-engage previous supporters and knock off new supporters before DeSantis even gets his plane off the ground,” Mr Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said in an interview.

The Trump-DeSantis clash unfolds as President Joe Biden is preparing to announce his reelection campaign as early as next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr DeSantis’ allies insist he has not decided whether to run. But polls show that he is Trump’s most viable challenger, and the former president is treating him like a full-fledged opponent.

Paid advertisements by a Trump-allied super political action committee have assailed Mr DeSantis, 44, for his support while in Congress of cuts to Medicare and Social Security, while Trump himself has mocked the governor in speeches, videos and social media posts.

Behind the scenes, Trump, 76, and his aides have reached out to GOP lawmakers across the United States to lock up support both in Mr DeSantis’ own backyard and in early voting states.

‘Trump has momentum’

Mr DeSantis, to the chagrin of some supporters and would-be donors, has barely fought back. An allied super PAC began an ad campaign last weekend criticising Trump, and Mr DeSantis picked up a single endorsement this week from Representative Laurel Lee, a Florida Republican.

Trump won the backing of six Florida House members just this week, and his team is delighted that a majority of the state’s lawmakers now support the former president rather than their own governor.

Trump’s lead over Mr DeSantis in the RealClearPolitics average of polls has widened to about 29 percentage points, from 13 percentage points in January. Some donors who had hoped Mr DeSantis would displace Trump are holding onto their money as the former president pummels his presumptive challenger.

“It’s working, and you don’t need to look any further than the totality of the polls. Trump has momentum,” said Florida-based Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who served as a surrogate for the Trump White House and 2020 campaign.

But Mr Dave Abrams, a spokesman for the DeSantis political team, said “the inordinate amount of time spent attacking Governor DeSantis reveals his strength – and others’ weakness”.

The super PAC supporting the governor has recently hired staff in early voting states and sent out mailers introducing Mr DeSantis, his military service, his family and his political record.

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