What are the differences between DeSantis and Trump?


The differences between former President Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) are coming into sharper focus as the two emerge as potential rivals in the 2024 presidential contest.

Trump’s endorsement helped propel DeSantis through the GOP primary in the 2018 Florida governor’s race. But as both men position themselves for a White House run, long-simmering differences on vaccines, pandemic responses and other issues are bubbling to the surface.

Some of DeSantis’s policy positions are in direct conflict with Trump’s. That sets up a contrast for the Florida governor to highlight should he run against Trump for the 2024 nomination.

“We’ll continue to see this cold war get hotter and hotter, and the only thing to watch is when DeSantis starts to openly criticize or respond to Trump,” said Sam Nunberg, a GOP strategist who advised Trump’s 2016 campaign. “He doesn’t have to while he’s governor, but eventually he will as a candidate.”

Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly seen as a possible political weak point for the former president among Republican primary voters. Trump oversaw the shuttering of the U.S. economy in the early months of the pandemic at the urging of public health experts. That allowed governors, such as DeSantis, to win the support of their constituents by allowing businesses in their states to remain open, bucking federal guidelines.

Last week, DeSantis again seemed to move to the right of Trump when he formed a state committee to act as a counterbalance to federal health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and said he would request a grand jury investigation into COVID-19 vaccines.

Health experts and even some Republicans panned the move, arguing it would sow distrust in medicine and vaccines at a time when the federal government is pushing more Americans to get booster shots to protect them from the virus. It also risks alienating more moderate voters.

The COVID-19 vaccines were developed during the Trump administration, something Trump has repeatedly sought credit for. But the former president has largely refrained from talking about the vaccines since leaving office, and, unlike other top officials, he did not get his shot in public, underscoring the delicate line he is trying to walk with some of his supporters who have questioned the vaccines’ efficacy.

While pandemic policies are one issue where there may be daylight between Trump and DeSantis, the governor’s allies and strategists believe that another key point of difference is in the governor’s legislative record more broadly. 

“I think the overall narrative and differentiation will be that DeSantis gets things done, and he’s not a cult of personality,” said one Florida-based Republican strategist. “While President Trump is running for himself, DeSantis is running for the people and showing he can do effective government.”

“Trump will want to say that everything up until the pandemic was a major success and you should judge him on that,” the strategist added.

Trump has spent the two years since leaving office mostly fixated on the 2020 election, continuing to claim that it was fraudulent or rigged against him. 

Since announcing his 2024 White House bid in November, Trump has been a magnet for controversy. He dined with a white nationalist Holocaust denier at his Florida club, and he suggested parts of the Constitution should be set aside so he could have a redo of the 2020 election or be put back into power. 

Trump’s lone policy rollout came via a video in which he said he’d ban the federal government from labeling speech as misinformation as part of a broader “free speech” platform. Trump’s criticism of DeSantis thus far has been that he owes his 2018 election victory to the then-president’s endorsement.

DeSantis, meanwhile, has used his post as governor to be at the forefront of culture war issues that matter to conservative voters. 

He backed a law to restrict discussion of gender and sexuality among younger schoolchildren; transported migrants from Texas to the liberal enclave of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; and pushed back against mask requirements in schools. He also signed off on a congressional map that strongly favored Republicans, helping the party pick up additional seats in November’s midterms.

DeSantis is expected to delay any announcement on a 2024 campaign until the late spring or summer, using the upcoming legislative session to rack up more policy victories that could set him apart from Trump and others who are not in office.

“It’s not complicated, @RonDeSantisFL is leading the polls for a reason. Principled, conservative, leadership on issues Floridians (and all Americans) care about,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) tweeted.

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