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In competing rallies, Trump and DeSantis play it cool before possible 2024 showdown

Former President Donald Trump, wearing a red Make America Great Again cap, speaks into a microphone at a podium.
Former President Donald Trump at a "Save America" rally on Sunday at the Miami-Dade County Fairgrounds. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images)

The two biggest politicians in Florida hosted competing campaign events Sunday, teeing up what could be the defining battle for the Republican nomination in 2024.

Former President Donald Trump hosted a rally in Miami on Sunday afternoon. The official purpose was to help Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in his reelection bid, as well as other GOP candidates. But as Trump often does at his campaign events, he relitigated his complaints about the 2020 election and House Democrats, and he teased his potential 2024 bid.

“In order to make our country successful, safe and glorious, I will probably have to do it again. But stay tuned,” he said.

A day earlier, Trump took his clearest shot yet at his own home state governor and potential 2024 rival Ron DeSantis, calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious.” But on Sunday in Florida, where DeSantis is also facing voters on Tuesday, Trump dropped the insult and urged voters to reelect DeSantis.

Trump did not shower DeSantis with praise, as the former president did with Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott and a swath of other GOP Florida politicians who were attending the rally.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks from a podium at a campaign event.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a campaign event on Saturday in Oviedo, Fla. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

DeSantis wasn’t at the event. About two hours north of Miami, DeSantis hosted his own campaign rally as he seeks a second term in office. Dubbed the “Don’t Tread on Florida” tour, supporters flashed yellow signs with the slogan in the style of the Gadsden flag, a symbol popular with libertarians and conservatives, with an alligator on the pro-DeSantis version in place of the traditional snake.

DeSantis, who has kept Trump at a distance and taken only veiled shots at the former president, avoided talking directly about Trump Sunday afternoon. But as he has done before, DeSantis hinted toward a point of differentiation with Trump by tacking to the right on COVID-19 vaccination policies and by attacking longtime national infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci (whom Trump kept employed and was a frequent presence through the pandemic in Trump’s White House). “In Florida, we support freedom over Fauci-ism,” DeSantis said to cheers.

The governor also stuck close to a finely tuned message that laced into the latest iteration of the culture wars, blasting an amorphous network of “elites.”

“If everything gets infected by wokeness, it will destroy this country,” DeSantis said Sunday. “We will never surrender to the woke mob. The state of Florida is where woke goes to die.”

People in the crowd, many wearing Make America Great Again caps, at a rally where Donald Trump was set to speak.
People wait for Trump to take the stage on Sunday. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

The contrasts between DeSantis and Trump may soon get a lot sharper, as the shadow campaigns for the 2024 presidential nomination are set to firm up in the weeks and months following the November midterms. Some reports have suggested that Trump could officially launch his bid as soon as next week, but sources in touch with the former president told Yahoo News that the date is still in flux. Those sources said he plans to debate the timing when he gathers supporters on Election Day at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

DeSantis, meanwhile, is expected to keep up his courtship of big-name donors in the coming weeks as he games out whether to run for president in 2024 or wait another four years to avoid a showdown with Trump, who is known to take a scorched-earth approach with rivals. At 44 years old, some supporters believe that DeSantis can easily delay his bid for another shot at the White House.

Beyond Trump, almost no politician has captured the support of the Republican base of voters like DeSantis. National polling of the prospective 2024 Republican field has routinely shown Trump easily winning the support of upward of 50% of Republican voters in a possible White House bid, with DeSantis around 20%.