Donald Trump knows I can beat him, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) said Thursday, and “he’s moving to the left attacking me.”
DeSantis remarked to New Hampshire radio talk host Jack Heath on his first full day as an official candidate in the 2024 GOP presidential primary. It’s a theme DeSantis developed in other media interviews throughout the day and nationwide.
Asked by Heath about his path to defeat Trump, who enjoys a 32-point lead in the latest RealClearPolitics polling average, DeSantis said the former president’s response shows the strength of his candidacy.
“I think a lot of what he’s doing is showing … he understands that I’ve got a good chance to beat him because he doesn’t criticize anybody else,” DeSantis said. “Now it’s only me. They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t think that I had a chance because I think they realize I am offering folks a record of achievement that’s second to none.”
Critics say those are bold words for a candidate whose campaign launch on Elon Musk’s Twitter Spaces was an embarrassing bust less than 24 hours earlier.
“The only person in this race who should feel threatened is Ron DeSantis, who continues to implode in the polls as voters learn about his votes to gut Social Security, cut Medicare, and impose a national 23 percent sales tax on every state, including sales-tax-free New Hampshire,” said Karoline Leavitt, MAGA Inc. spokeswoman.
Some campaign pros shrug off DeSantis’ glitch-filled kick-off, saying it would have a short-term effect. (“A missed opportunity but not fatal,” said GOP strategist Dave Carney.)
But there are effects. State Rep. Sandra Panek (R-Pelham), who had previously endorsed DeSantis, is now on the Trump Train.
“After being less than impressed with Ron DeSantis’s official announcement last night, I am hereby switching my endorsement to President Donald J. Trump. We can’t expect someone to run the country if they can’t properly run their own campaign launch,” Panek said in a statement. “The stakes are simply too great in 2024 to take a chance on someone as unreliable as DeSantis — we need a proven winner like President Trump to take back the White House and Make America Great Again!”
And Rep. Juliet Harvey-Bolia (R-Tilton), who made headlines by endorsing Trump, then DeSantis, then issuing a statement claiming she supports both candidates, now says she is Trump all the way.
“I’m proud to announce my full endorsement for President Trump, and only Trump. He’ll keep us out of war and prosperous as he has in the past. Ron DeSantis will make a great candidate in 2028. I expect Republicans will unite behind President Trump.”
At the same time, the DeSantis campaign reports an $8.2 million campaign cash haul in its first 24 hours, including $1 million raised in a single hour. As Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times noted, that compares to the $9.5 million the Trump campaign raised in its first six weeks.
DeSantis has also started fighting back against Trump’s attacks, pointing out what pundits have been noting for weeks: Trump’s attacks on DeSantis have largely come from the political left.
For example, Trump is running a TV ad in New Hampshire targeting DeSantis over his past support for the so-called “Fair Tax,” a plan to abolish the IRS, end the income tax, and go to a flat sales tax. It has been a goal of some small-government conservatives for more than two decades. And hard-right Republicans in Congress are trying to make it an issue again today.
Trump’s attack on DeSantis is the same one Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan used against Republican Don Bolduc during last year’s U.S. Senate race.
“He’s moving to the left, attacking me,” DeSantis told Heath. “For example, opposing an immigration amnesty that he supported when he was president for illegal aliens. And I did oppose it because I don’t support amnesty.
“He also attacked me for voting against one of the bloated omnibus spending bills he supported as president. And I agree: I don’t think you should do those bloated bills. We’re 31 trillion in debt, and he added almost $8 trillion in debt in just four years as president,” he added.
“So I think the attacks he’s doing honestly show that I was right on those issues, and he wasn’t.”
DeSantis repeated the charge in other interviews later in the day.
Trump “is going left on a lot of the fiscal, he’s going left on culture,” DeSantis told a Tennessee-based talk host, The Washington Post reported. “I don’t know what happened to Donald Trump,” DeSantis said.
And on the Glenn Beck radio show, DeSantis laid $8 trillion in federal debt at Trump’s feet and said Trump kept the economy “great for three years. But when he turned the country over to Fauci in March of 2020, that destroyed millions of people’s lives.”
The Trump campaign has sent out at least 22 emails in the past 24 hours, attacking DeSantis or touting Trump.
“Poll after poll has shown that New Hampshire Republicans simply aren’t buying Ron DeSantis’ phony attempt to whitewash his record as an ‘America Second’ career politician, who has pushed to destroy Social Security and Medicare, off-shore New Hampshire jobs to China, and raise taxes on the people of the Granite State,” according to the Trump campaign.
Attacking Republicans for allegedly “destroying” Social Security and Medicare by supporting reforms to keep the programs solvent is a tried-and-true Democratic attack.
“This is a different [Trump] today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “And I think the direction that he’s going with his campaign is the wrong direction.”