Donald Trump kicked off his 2024 presidential campaign with a blistering attack on Ron DeSantis, his main rival for the party’s nomination.
The former US president warned that Mr DeSantis, the governor of Florida, risked ending his political career if he had the temerity to run against him.
“If he runs, that’s fine. I’m way up in the polls,” Mr Trump told the Associated Press.
“He’s going to have to do what he wants to do, but he may run. I do think it would be a great act of disloyalty because, you know, I got him in. He had no chance. His political life was over.”
The former president also accused Mr DeSantis of “trying to rewrite history” over the state’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Florida was closed for a long period of time,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Trump’s remarks came as he embarked on his first two campaign stops of the 2024 election, addressing party activists in New Hampshire and South Carolina – two of the earliest states to hold primaries.
The former president’s targeting of Mr DeSantis was a taste of what lies ahead for any Republicans who seek the nomination.
In 2016 Mr Trump, who started as a rank outsider, obliterated the field with a series of verbal assaults on his rivals.
Mr DeSantis, who has yet to formally announce he is running for the Oval Office, has already been dismissed as “sanctimonious” by Mr Trump.
The former president is leading the field nationally, with polls showing he has a healthy lead over Mr DeSantis.
But in New Hampshire, a poll put Mr DeSantis 12 points ahead among likely Republican voters.
Traditionally, New Hampshire is pivotal to the race for the nomination, and in 2016 Mr Trump crushed his opponents as he unloaded on the party and its “establishment” candidates – in particular Jeb Bush.
A DeSantis victory in New Hampshire would give the Florida governor’s campaign impetus, especially among party activists who believe it is time for the Republicans to look to the next generation.
Mr Trump, however, played down the threat to his securing the nomination and the presidency.
“I don’t think we have competition this time, to be honest,” he said. “We are so far ahead in the polls.” Nationally, that may be the case, but it seems flimsy.
The only potential rival mentioned by Mr Trump in his speeches was John Bolton, the former National Security Adviser, who was dismissed as “one of those stupid people” who were inconsistently Republican.
A host of other names are expected to throw their hats into the ring, including Mike Pence, the former vice-president, Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state, and Nikki Haley, the ex-governor of South Carolina who also served as Mr Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Significantly, neither Ms Haley nor Tim Scott – a South Carolina senator who is another possible candidate – were present when Mr Trump spoke to party activists on Saturday.
Despite facing the threat of a blizzard of litigation, Mr Trump appeared to be champing at the bit to step up his campaign.
“This campaign will be about the future. This campaign will be about issues. Joe Biden has put America on the fast track to ruin and destruction and we will ensure that he does not receive four more years,” he said. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2023)