TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump lobbed one of his famous disparaging nicknames at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a rally on Saturday night, referring to him as “Ron DeSanctimonious,” as he displayed a poll of the potential 2024 Republican battleground field.
“We’re winning big in the Republican Party for the nomination like nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump told a crowd in western Pennsylvania, projecting a Tweet on the big screen. “There it is, Trump at 71%, Ron DeSanctimonious at 10%. Mike Pence at 7 — oh, Mike is doing better than I thought.”
Trump’s comment is the first direct slight against DeSantis since the former president’s political committee announced he would be campaigning for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio at a rally in Miami on Sunday while not inviting DeSantis.
DeSantis released an ad last week depicting himself as a “fighter” created by God “on the eighth day.” He has not responded to Trump’s taunts, but it’s another signal that tensions continue to rise between the candidates.
Many Republicans consider DeSantis the leading contender in the race if Trump does not run, and it drew immediate criticism from party insiders.
Stafford Jones, a Gainesville-based Republican political consultant who rarely posts on Twitter, wrote: “Donald Trump belittling and name-calling our Florida Governor two days before the 2022 midterms, in which our Governor is on the ballot ... unforgivable.”
On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, former North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said the comment distracted from GOP messaging.
“If I’m Republican, I don’t want Trump to take away from the message that’s gonna win,” he said.
On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, former Pence chief of staff Marc Short said he viewed the comment as a sign that the former president is gearing up to announce his candidacy for the presidency soon in the wake of news last week that the U.S. Department of Justice is considering hiring an independent counsel to pursue indictments against Trump.
“He wants to get ahead of those impending indictments because then you can say, ‘See what the Biden DOJ is going to want to ask me because I’m an announced candidate,’’’ Short said.
Before Trump’s latest jab, Florida Republicans blamed the media for suggesting there was an intraparty feud between DeSantis and Trump.
“Journalists are trying to manufacture this conflict because they know a red wave has happened,’’ said state Rep. Joe Harding, a Williston Republican. He blamed Trump associate Roger Stone for elevating the story.
Four years ago, DeSantis catapulted to victory in the GOP primary for governor after Trump’s endorsement, and Trump, who continues to outperform DeSantis in polls for a 2024 president primary matchup, appears to see the governor as his most threatening rival.
Two weeks ago, Trump took a shot at DeSantis on his Truth Social platform by sharing a clip of podcaster and former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly being interviewed by BlazeTV host Dave Rubin about a potential Trump-DeSantis showdown.
“The only way DeSantis is going to become the Republican nominee is if Trump chooses not to run and endorses him or dies,” Kelly said, suggesting that hardcore MAGA supporters would never abandon Trump.
“I AGREE” posted Trump.
Shortly before that, DeSantis had endorsed Colorado Republican Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, who has criticized Trump and said he would not endorse him if the former president ran again in 2024.
“A BIG MISTAKE!” Trump posted on Truth Social in response to the DeSantis endorsement.
DeSantis and his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist are spending the weekend crisscrossing the state to make their final argument to voters before Election Day on Tuesday.