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The DeSantis playbook for hitting Trump as a fake conservative

Scoop! Ron DeSantis has a detailed plan to attack Donald Trump from the right.

The Florida governor will say that on many issues Trump isn’t a real conservative, and that he’s falsely tearing down DeSantis’ record of legislative achievements.  

Whether DeSantis, who has fallen far behind Trump in GOP primary polls, can start closing the gap with this strategy is unclear. Many of Trump’s MAGA voters either accept him as a true-blue conservative – he did pass tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy and remade the Supreme Court – or are so drawn to his personality that they don’t worry about individual issues.

But by hitting the former president on ideological grounds, DeSantis avoids making it personal, and alienating some of his voters. He doesn’t mention the New York indictment against Trump, which the governor has dismissed as purely political. 

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Ron DeSantis in South Carolina

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida first lady Casey DeSantis chat with locals at Coastal Coffee Roasters, a veteran-owned organic coffee shop in Summerville, South Carolina, on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (Ron DeSantis)

This actually isn’t a big exclusive – it comes from a release by DeSantis’ PAC, Never Back Down. But I haven’t seen it covered in major news outlets. And it’s the best blueprint we have for his soon-to-be-declared candidacy. 

“Donald Trump continues to offer the same old, pathetic attacks Americans are tired of hearing,” says Chris Jankowski, CEO of the political action committee. “Even worse, Trump is so afraid of a potential DeSantis challenge that he’s taking a page out of the Radical Left’s playbook and attempting to diminish the governor’s conservative success story.”

In Republican circles, there’s no greater insult than saying your rival is copying the radical left. “Why is Trump stealing Biden’s lines to attack Ron DeSantis?” the memo asks. But the idea that Trump is afraid of DeSantis’ bid sounds like wishful thinking.

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“Donald Trump lies about his record supporting firearm restrictions, while Governor DeSantis is protecting Florida’s constitutional 2nd Amendment right.” No details are given, but while Trump as president did sign a minor gun-safety measure, he didn’t follow up after vowing to take on the NRA. DeSantis, meanwhile, boasts that he signed a law allowing the carrying of concealed weapons without a government permit.

In what is likely to be a continuing debate, the PAC says Trump “pretends he never supported Social Security and Medicare cuts.” Actually, he ran on protecting the two giant entitlement programs, though in his last year in office he told CNBC he might be willing to consider such cutbacks at some point in the future. 

Trump and DeSantis talking

Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and former President Trump, right.  (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

DeSantis, as a congressman, repeatedly voted to reduce benefits for future recipients and raise the age for full benefits. Both parties know full well the safety-net programs will go bankrupt if painful changes aren’t made.

 

Wait, there’s more. “Donald Trump sides with Woke Disney and their corrupt operations in Florida that Governor DeSantis is fighting to change.” Trump has dismissed the war on Disney as a stunt that failed. The company is suing DeSantis for political retaliation after it criticized his law on what can be taught in public schools.

Finally, “Donald Trump blamed the pro-life movement for his endorsed candidates’ losses in the 2022 midterm elections.” Well, not exactly. He did say that some in the party hadn’t handled the issue well and that abortion should be left to the states, as the Supreme Court intended in knocking down Roe. A pro-life group denounced Trump for a “morally indefensible” position.

Protesters facing off over Trump

Pro and anti trump supporters face off during a protest outside of Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on April 4. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

DeSantis, meanwhile, signed a Florida law that bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

So the emerging message is clear: Ron DeSantis is the real conservative, and Donald Trump is letting down folks on the right.

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Unfortunately, for the governor, his refusal to engage Trump in recent months has not just given Trump a massive lead in the polls but has allowed him to define DeSantis. Now it’s Ron’s turn to define himself.

Most Republican voters aren’t going to get into the minutia of his Florida record, but he needs to tell a story, and that seems to be “I’m the real deal.”

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The press has turned on DeSantis in recent months, saying he lacks charisma and has little taste for retail politicking. We’ll find out soon enough. I’m not sure the argument that Trump is a closet liberal really works, but at least it’s a narrative that separates DeSantis from his onetime pal.

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