Throughout his presidential campaign, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has maintained a measured approach during his speeches, choosing not to directly criticize the man leading him by a considerable margin in many Republican primary polls.
However, in recent stump speeches delivered in California, South Carolina, Florida, and Iowa, Mr. DeSantis has started addressing former President Donald J. Trump more candidly. These remarks have drawn laughter and applause from his audiences, creating an energetic atmosphere.
During a speech to a crowd of several hundred people at a packed coffee shop in Des Moines, Governor DeSantis highlighted Mr. Trump’s failure to make Mexico pay for a border wall, an unfulfilled promise that was recently acknowledged as impossible.
In response, Mr. DeSantis offered a strong contrast by presenting a plan to fund the wall through imposing fees on remittances sent back to Mexico. With a wry smile, Governor DeSantis emphasized that not only will he keep his own promises, but also those made by President Trump, garnering him some of the loudest applause of the day.
Since 2015, leading Republicans have struggled to find effective strategies for challenging Mr. Trump. For ambitious Republican politicians, unsuccessful attempts to criticize him risk alienating his loyal supporters, who comprise a significant portion of the G.O.P. base.
In an effort to avoid this pitfall, Governor DeSantis has tested the waters by offering constructive criticism without angering voters who support Trump’s policies but are weary of the drama surrounding him. While outright labeling Mr. Trump as a threat to democracy or characterizing his campaign as a means to avoid jail time would not be received favorably, there appears to be an opening for Republican politicians to respectfully express their concerns.
This notion was reinforced by the positive response Governor DeSantis received from crowds in four states over the last 10 days. It could serve as a blueprint for other candidates aspiring to gain ground and position themselves as potential alternatives to Trump.
Notably, Judy McDonough, an 82-year-old Trump supporter, highlighted the importance of striking the right tone when criticizing the former president, and she commended Governor DeSantis for relying on factual information rather than resorting to negativity.
Governor DeSantis’s more assertive strategy emerged during the second Republican presidential debate last month. Taking center stage, Mr. DeSantis openly criticized Trump for skipping the debates, displaying a more aggressive tone than he had in a previous debate.
He further expressed his disagreement with Mr. Trump during a convention of the California Republican Party, regretting Trump’s contribution to Georgia and Arizona turning blue. Identified by his statements thus far, Governor DeSantis is expected to continue addressing key policy points from Trump’s presidency.
These include his unfulfilled promise of building a border wall, his failure to dismantle the so-called ‘deep state’ according to Republicans, his increase in the national debt, and his management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Additionally, Mr. DeSantis has commented on Trump’s limited term, labeling him a ‘lame duck,’ and has criticized his stance on abortion. While this pressure on Mr. Trump is growing, a heated clash between them is unlikely, as Governor DeSantis refrains from personal attacks and instead focuses on issues such as inflation, immigration, and President Biden’s ability to handle the responsibilities of the White House.
Governor DeSantis recognizes the need for urgency, as he has made the Iowa caucuses his primary focus and relocated a third of his staff to the state last week. With only $5 million available for the primary in the next three months, he must make his move against Mr. Trump now or risk missing the opportunity entirely. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has been relentlessly criticizing Mr. DeSantis for months.
Campaigning approximately 100 miles apart in Iowa, Mr. Trump derided Mr. DeSantis, referring to him as ‘DeSanctimonious,’ a nickname he often uses mockingly. Mr. Trump confidently claimed that Mr. DeSantis, like a wounded bird, would soon depart the race. Responding to Mr. DeSantis’s criticisms, Mr. Trump’s spokesman, Steven Cheung, mockingly dismissed the governor’s ‘tough guy routine’ as laughable.