Trump amplifies posts claiming DeSantis was 'grooming high school girls'

The former president reposted a photo purporting to show DeSantis drinking and partying with high school students when he worked as a teacher.

Portraits of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, both seen in profile.
Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speak at midterm election rallies in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2022, and Tampa, Fla., respectively, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Gaelen Morse, Marco Bello/Reuters)

Former President Donald Trump escalated his attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday, seizing on a story that his rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination partied with underage students when he worked as a teacher at a Georgia high school.

In five successive posts Tuesday to his social media site, Truth Social, Trump went after DeSantis. Two of them referenced a story published by the far-right website that claimed DeSantis had been photographed "partying with underaged students" at the Darlington School, a private K-12 school in Rome, Ga., where DeSantis taught from 2001-02.

Trump reposted a photograph originally posted by a Truth Social member who goes by the handle Dong-Chan Lee, and who uses a profile photo of the alt-right meme Pepe the Frog, featuring Trump's signature hairdo. The image showed what appeared to be DeSantis flanked by three young women that had been captioned, "Here is Ron DeSanctimonious grooming high school girls with alcohol as a teacher."

Trump, who so far is the only Republican to have formally declared himself a candidate for the 2024 presidential election, added his own commentary to go with the photo. "That’s not Ron, is it?" Trump wrote. "He would never do such a thing!"

In another repost, Trump added more sarcastic commentary, writing "No way?" when highlighting further commentary from the same Truth Social user who posted the photo of DeSantis.

"Ron DeSantis was having a 'drink' party with his students when he was a high school teacher. Having drinks with underage girls and cuddling with them certainly look [sic] pretty gross and ephebophiliaesque," Trump posted.

There are few issues that resonate with the far-right wing of the Republican Party more than an accusation of sexual relations with a minor. Adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory network, for instance, believe that the government, especially members of the Democratic Party, are made up of Satan-worshiping pedophiles. Trump has also shared QAnon memes on Truth Social.

DeSantis, who is widely believed to be planning to announce his own presidential candidacy, has so far adhered to a strategy of ignoring Trump's attacks on him, such as his coining the nickname "Ron DeSanctimonious." But Tuesday's posts may test that strategy.

Trump went on to promote three more messages posted by Lee that took aim at DeSantis for his 2018 vote on a border security bill when he was a House member in 2018, for not sharing Trump's false belief that the 2020 election was stolen and a story in which DeSantis was quoted as saying he was glad that violent Jan. 6, 2021, rioters had been arrested.

A poll released Monday by the conservative Club for Growth showed that DeSantis leads Trump by 9 percentage points in a hypothetical head-to-head primary match-up. Trump fares better when the field is expanded to include multiple candidates. When the Club for Growth poll added to the mix former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Trump came in first, with 37%, and DeSantis came in second with 33%.