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Trumpworld Vows to Ruin DeSantis—Again—for His 2024 Potshots

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Welcome to Trail Mix, your 2024 election sanity guide. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at jake.lahut@thedailybeast.com. To get Trail Mix in your inbox, subscribe here for free.

This week, we revisit 2024’s biggest grudge that won’t go away. Plus, in vitro fertilization politics, and a look at why Trump keeps underperforming his polling numbers.

RON HIS WAY OUT

After more than a year spent reveling in their relentless tormenting of Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump’s political operation seemingly began enjoying his irrelevance after the Florida governor ended his presidential bid.

But days before the South Carolina primary on Feb. 24, DeSantis curiously convened his modest pool of delegates on a conference call and began complaining about the man he had just endorsed for president, according to reporters who listened in.

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On the call, DeSantis repeatedly raised concerns about Trump’s viability as a general election candidate. He criticized right-wing media for protecting the former president, saying they “made the decision that their business model just doesn’t work if they offer any criticism of Trump.”

Referring to Trump’s infamous remark about being able to “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing any voters, DeSantis quipped “he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and the conservative media wouldn’t even report on it, that it had happened.”

At that point, DeSantis had certainly caught Trumpworld’s attention. Beyond the private call, they also hadn’t missed DeSantis’ public rejection of a Florida lawmaker’s push to pay Trump’s legal bills, or his conspicuous pre-primary trip to South Carolina to advocate for term limits.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference on Feb. 5, 2024 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Amid all the slights and postmortems and gripes, DeSantis has scarcely shown anything resembling enthusiastic support of Trump as he gears up for another presidential contest.

Once seen by some conservatives as the future of the GOP, DeSantis may now be lucky to have one within the party at all if he doesn’t become more of a team player in 2024, Republicans close to the Trump campaign told The Daily Beast.

“People have made very clear in Trumpworld that if he opens his mouth again or makes those types of comments, I think they’re going to bury him,” an operative close to the Trump campaign told The Daily Beast. “And that’s that.”

Top Trump aides sprang into action after the call last Wednesday. In a post on X, Trump adviser Jason Miller warned “if his popping off continues, Thor’s hammer will return.”

“Chicken fingers and pudding cups is what you will be remembered for you sad little man,” top campaign adviser Chris LaCivita wrote in his own post, referring to a Daily Beast report which included an anecdote about DeSantis eating chocolate pudding with his fingers in front of staff on a flight.

According to Republicans close to Trump, all of whom requested anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations, retaliation toward DeSantis could go well beyond tough talk if he continues to snipe at Trump. In particular, operatives are thinking about when DeSantis’ second term as governor ends in 2026 and he looks for his next move.

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“I think there will be a poisoning of his other options, for sure,” the first Trump operative said. “I think there’ll be public statements made against him. I think certainly in Florida, the rug’s been pulled out under him.”

Another operative for the former president told The Daily Beast “there’s no preemptive strikes from us on Ron,” but “if he chooses to attack, he’s gonna get hit back 10 times harder.”

“If he wants to relive the primary,” the source close to Trump said, “he must be a masochist, maybe that’s what he’s into.”

Being a glutton for punishment doesn’t totally explain, however, why DeSantis chose to make such an unsubtle re-entry to the campaign trail.

“He’s gotta rebuild some cachet with donors,” said a former DeSantis staffer, who requested anonymity to privately describe private conversations. “Everyone thinks he’s the worst candidate ever and he’s a joke. I just think he wants to keep himself relevant and in the mix.”

While few may have expected DeSantis to don a MAGA hat and enthusiastically stump for Trump after their nasty and personal primary battle, it’s notable that their flimsy détente seems to have barely lasted a month.

With so many unsettled scores remaining from the primary, the coming months will put the Trump campaign’s more recent emphasis on party unity to the test. It will also serve as a uniquely compelling case study in what future there even is for popular and successful GOP politicians who do not fully bend the knee for Trump.

To the former president’s loyalists, even if DeSantis turns into something of a loyal soldier through 2024, there’s little appetite to make room for him in the party going forward.

“Donald Trump is not only the power center of the Republican Party,” a Trump-aligned GOP aide told The Daily Beast. “He is the power center of the Florida Republican Party. You would think that Ron would’ve learned his lesson after getting his ass kicked in Iowa. His poll numbers against Trump nationally and in Florida were horrific. He’s done. In 2028, the MAGA base will never allow him to become the nominee.”

Trump-DeSantis Feud Over Heeled Boots Spills Into Real Life

Several other Republicans in and around Trumpworld said DeSantis’ chances in 2028 are toast, though some think he could still enjoy a limited future in Florida.

“People here in Florida love DeSantis, they just didn’t want him to run for president,” said Al Baldasaro, a Florida Republican who advises Trump on veterans issues and was one of his earliest supporters from 2016 in New Hampshire. Baldasaro, who once said Hillary Clinton should be “shot for treason,” took a more optimistic view of Trumpworld’s posture toward DeSantis in the long term.

“It’s just a matter of time. Right now his feelings are hurt, he wanted to be No. 1,” Baldasaro said, describing Trump—a man notorious for holding petty grudges and casting aside loyal supporters—as “a fair guy” whose “grudges don’t last long.”

The former DeSantis staffer said a DeSantis run for president in 2028 is “certainly possible,” but the conversations with those in the governor’s orbit have drifted more toward Florida’s first lady.

Casey DeSantis listens as her husband, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Casey DeSantis (R) listens as her husband, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Jan. 14, 2024 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“Everybody just talks about how his team is positioning his wife to run for governor,” the ex-DeSantis aide said of Casey DeSantis, the frequent campaign presence widely known as her husband’s most important political adviser.

The first Trump operative said they doubt the first lady would get much support from the former president’s network, given her reputation for “micromanaging staff” on the DeSantis campaign.

“I don’t think she has any type of political capital to be used on any front,” the Trump operative said. “I mean, they really should just become good, loyal soldiers for the sake of the country and the party, and be out there openly supporting President Trump.”

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump delivers remarks alongside supporters, campaign staff and family members during his primary night rally at the Sheraton on Jan. 23, 2024 in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

A representative for DeSantis did not return a request for comment.

DeSantis has also been keeping in touch with his political network and donors from the primary ahead of a future run, according to CNN.

“I think Ron has a better chance of being the president of Hillsdale College than he does the United States,” the second Trump operative said, referencing the conservative liberal arts institution in Michigan.

Although Trump’s loyal soldiers are ready to go after DeSantis again at the snap of a finger, many think the Florida governor’s fade into irrelevance will do most of the work for them.

“No one in political history has destroyed their political career as fast and hard as Ron DeSantis,” the first Trumpworld operative said. “I mean really, on every angle too. In the House, with donors, with voters. And to be honest with you, same with the people that work for him.”

The former DeSantis staffer warned not to underestimate Trump’s wrath, especially if he wins in November.

“Once he’s in office,” the DeSantis alum said, “we’ll see if that changes.”

THE IVF RECEIPTS

Democrats trying to hold the U.S. Senate see a tantalizing opening in the fight over in vitro fertilization, and they’ve begun—according to top Democratic strategists—compiling research with a specific target: Republican candidates who have said life begins at conception.

Republican Memo Urges Senate Candidates to Defend IVF

It was that belief that helped lead an Alabama court to rule that frozen embryos are considered children, raising questions about the future of IVF and handing Democrats an incredible political gift.

But the list of GOP Senate candidates who have taken the position that life begins at conception is long—and Democrats plan to remind voters frequently about the similarities between that position and the language used in the Alabama IVF opinion.

“I am 100% pro-life and will defend Life from conception to natural death,” said former Rep. Peter Meijer, who is running for Senate in Michigan, according to an archived copy of his 2020 campaign website.

Bernie Moreno, an Ohio Senate candidate, tweeted in 2022 that “conservative Republicans should never back down from their belief that life begins at conception.”

During her 2022 gubernatorial run, Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake said she believed “life begins at conception.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks in the Capitol on Feb. 27, 2004, to discuss the Alabama Supreme Court ruling on in vitro fertilization.

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

And Eric Hovde, the top Republican running for Senate in Wisconsin, reportedly described his abortion position on his 2012 Senate campaign website as protecting “all human life from conception to natural death.”

All four campaigns defended IVF in the wake of the Alabama decision—hewing to guidance issued by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which urged its candidates to reject the ruling.

Republicans should “clearly and concisely reject efforts by the government to restrict IVF,” the NRSC memo read.

A Meijer spokeswoman said the former congressman believes “we should protect their ability to have babies,” including through IVF. A Hovde spokesman also said the Republican supports IVF. Moreno responded to the Alabama ruling by tweeting that “IVF is a vital tool for families that struggle with infertility.” And Lake tweeted that she opposed restrictions on IVF.

Meijer’s spokeswoman rejected the idea that the former congressman’s position conflicts with his belief about life beginning at conception. Others did not respond when asked how their position on protecting IVF squares with their comments on life.

While the Alabama ruling was a logical extension of a pro-life movement that successfully overturned the right to an abortion on the national level—and caused serious electoral backlash for the GOP—many top Republicans, including Trump, have insisted they support IVF.

But Democrats are already looking to test that position, putting Senate Republicans on defense by asking for unanimous consent to pass a federal law that would protect access to IVF. Republican senators responded by arguing it is an issue for the states, not the Senate, and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) blocked the bill on Wednesday.

“Republican Senate candidates have spent years issuing statements, making pledges and giving interviews threatening to take away women's right to make their most personal decisions about their health care and their families,” said David Bergstein, communications director for the Senate Democratic campaign arm. “Democrats will ensure voters hold them accountable for their records.”

— reported by Dan Merica

MAGA OF ERROR

It’s been a feature and a bug of the Trump coalition.

Ever since the 2018 midterm elections, a small but statistically significant portion of ardent MAGA supporters show up in polls, but not always at the polls.

In the 2016 campaign, there was plenty of hand-wringing among pollsters and Republican operatives over Trump voters going unnoticed by polls—the so-called “invisible Trump voter.”

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But so far in the 2024 primaries, a reverse version of the phenomenon has been taking place—which could presage continued polling uncertainty in the 2024 general election.

In state after state primary election so far, Trump has consistently underperformed polling.

Ahead of the Michigan primary last Tuesday, Trump had an average polling lead of 57 points over Nikki Haley, according to FiveThirtyEight. He ended up winning by 41 points—a commanding margin, but one that was nearly a third smaller than projected.

In South Carolina, the FiveThirtyEight model had Trump leading Haley by 30 points until the final days of the race, when the average settled at 27 points. Trump ultimately won by 20 points.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event at the Westin Hotel Feb. 29, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

In both Iowa and New Hampshire, meanwhile, Trump performed 4 points below the FiveThirtyEight average.

For most polls included in major models like FiveThirtyEight, researchers seek to poll likely voters in order to get the best snapshot of the possible result. The process of determining a likely voter is a complicated one, even more so given Trump’s ability to draw in Americans who usually don’t participate in the political process.

Julia Azari, a professor of political science at Marquette University, said the divergence between Trump’s polling and Trump’s actual results could be chalked up to pollsters’ difficulty in screening likely voters—along with Trump supporters being more unreliable voters overall.

“If people look to estimate who’s going to vote in a Republican primary and look at people who started voting around 2016 or haven’t voted before and don’t have college degrees, that might oversample Trump voters,” Azari said. “But to me, that seems like a different side of the same coin of Trump having supporters who are low-propensity voters.”

Azari also pointed to “the weird nature of the primary” where the motivations to vote in a race that is effectively over make it even harder to get a good sample of likely voters. “There’s potentially a connection to the strange nature of the primary itself and Haley hanging on in the race,” she said.

Brad Coker, a longtime Florida pollster, pointed to another problem with surveying Trump voters. Incumbents, he said—or a quasi-incumbent, in Trump’s case—tend to be less likely to over-perform their most recent polling totals before voting day.

Trump Keeps Dominating Primaries While Getting Crushed in Court

“It’s not uncommon for an incumbent to poll closer to what they’re gonna get, but then the undecideds go to the challenger,” Coker said. The Florida pollster also pointed to women with college degrees—one of Trump’s worst demographics—as a trickier group to properly sample in polls. The fact that Haley performed well in counties where that demographic is strong—like Washtenaw County in Michigan—supports that read.

“Everybody says, oh, they’re not getting enough blue collar workers and people with high school educations,” Coker said, “but I’ve always found that demographic is never shy about telling you they’ll vote for Trump. Where you get that disconnect… he has lesser appeal to women with college degrees.”

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

Reverse coattails? There’s some novel Republican political logic coming out of what could end up being the most expensive governor’s race in the country.

North Carolina is one of the Biden campaign’s top targets in 2024. Trump won the state by just 1.3 percent of the vote in 2020. It’s also likely to be the most competitive governor race of the year.

President Joe Biden speaks briefly with reporters.

President Joe Biden speaks briefly with reporters before boarding the Marine One presidential helicopter and departing the White House on Feb. 29, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This time around, in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary, a candidate is making an inverted version of the common argument that Trump is toxic for down-ballot candidates.

Bill Graham, a Republican candidate polling well behind frontrunner Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson—whom Trump promised to endorse—argued during a recent podcast interview that it’s Robinson, not Trump, who might cost Republicans the state against Biden.

“If Robinson is our nominee, President Trump is going to be at risk for winning this state,” Graham said, according to audio exclusively obtained by The Daily Beast. “And if he doesn’t win North Carolina, he will not be our next president.”

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Robinson has no shortage of baggage: He’s called the LGBT community “filth,” has a long record of antisemitic and Islamophobic comments, and has had to clarify he did not, in fact, call for the assassination of government officials.

“I got them AR-15s in case the government gets too big for its britches,” Robinson said at a church event in April. “Because I’m going to fill the backside of those britches with some lead. I’m going to say it to you plain: Your boy ain’t going down without swinging.”

While Robinson is beloved in the MAGA base, other Republicans clearly fear he’d be an unprecedented drag up and down the ticket in the general election in a state that likes to elect moderate Democratic governors.

Graham and Robinson’s campaigns, along with the North Carolina GOP, did not return a request for comment.

It’s not Joever. Some Democrats are seemingly anxious about the prospect of finding themselves on a stage next to an unpopular incumbent president this election season. One battleground Democrat facing a tough race recently told CNN “Hell no!” when asked if they’d campaign alongside Biden in their district.

But one key Democratic leader is singing a different tune: Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota. He’s the chair of the Democratic Governors Association for the 2024 election cycle, tasked with winning governors’ offices in states like North Carolina and New Hampshire. The Biden campaign is targeting both those states, making a presidential visit likely.

At a recent DGA briefing, The Daily Beast asked Walz how he’d feel about his governor candidates campaigning with Biden this year. While he said it was up to each candidate, the second-term governor and former congressman quickly expressed his own clear view.

“My personal point on this is, we’re in this together,” he said. “The one thing I learned being in Congress, it doesn’t matter how you vote, they’re gonna say whatever they want to about you anyway.”

“It’s really hard to nationalize a governor’s race… they tried it with me, both of mine. They tried to nationalize Andy Beshear, it did not work because he was focusing on the kitchen table issues,” Walz said, referencing the incumbent Democrat who just won re-election in Kentucky last year.

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“So I think it’s irrelevant,” Walz said. “I think when we come together—look, you agree with the president on issues, so be there with him.”

CAMPAIGN LIT

Sleight of hand. Trump is not only trying to get out of paying his $464 million bank fraud penalty, but also quietly moving business assets to Florida, Jose Pagliery reports.

Commitment issues. The Biden campaign got a wake-up call in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, as 13 percent of Democratic voters cast an “uncommitted” ballot in protest of the president’s handling of Gaza, Riley Rogerson reports.

Hunted to Hunter. Hunter Biden will be taking on a more aggressive and visible role during the 2024 campaign season—with the support of the Biden campaign, Jake Lahut reports.

Move, Mitch. The decision of longtime Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell to step down is opening up a heated succession race that could shape the party in 2024, report Sam Brodey, Reese Gorman, and Riley.

Superfed. Roger Sollenberger and Will Bredderman uncovered a new wrinkle in Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake’s bribery scandal involving Superfeed Technologies, Inc., a GOP tech firm.

Bend it like Johnson. Republicans are getting tired of House Speaker Mike Johnson kicking the can down the road as Congress barrels toward a government shutdown, Riley and Reese report.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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