Trump v DeSantis: Ex-president could turn on the rising GOP star

Trump v DeSantis: Ex-president could turn on the rising GOP star
Trump v DeSantis: Ex-president could turn on the rising GOP star

Ron DeSantis risks the wrath of Donald Trump as his political star rises.

Even as he runs for a second term as governor of Florida, DeSantis is being mentioned as a top White House contender. Trump has not ruled out another run at the Oval Office in 2024.

And DeSantis is already taking baby steps to split with Trump even as he courts MAGA supporters and talks with GOP donors during visits to Mar-a-Lago. 

In the wake of the Surfside building collapse, DeSantis, who built his reputation as a partisan governor willing to defy COVID restrictions to keep his state open, has turned the other cheek. 

He's stood with local officials, including Democrats, as they assessed the damage. And he sat next to Joe Biden when the president came down for a briefing and to meet with rescue officials, nodding along as Biden patted his hand in solidarity. 

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But most telling could be his absence. DeSantis skipped Trump's campaign Sarasota last weekend, citing his duty to the Surfside community, where at least 64 people have died in the condo collapse and more than 70 are still missing.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, visit a memorial to those missing outside the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, visit a memorial to those missing outside the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Florida

President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis at a July 1 briefing on the condo collapse

President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis at a July 1 briefing on the condo collapse

He's still the conservative populist who rarely parts with Trump. But unlike the former president, DeSantis is showing that he can tone down some of his most extreme partisan rhetoric during a disaster.

'The governor has been decisive. He´s been constant. He´s been collaborative,' Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levine Cava, a Democrat who has sparred with DeSantis in the past, said in an interview. 'Hats off to the governor for how he has supported us in this crisis.'

Charles Burkett, the nonpartisan mayor of Surfside, called the level of cooperation 'astounding, even surprising.'

Of course, DeSantis isn't ushering in a new era of bipartisanship or a Republican return to reality-based rhetoric. The governor has dodged direct questions on whether Biden's victory in last year's election was fair. A day after the collapse, DeSantis promoted an unusual plan to deploy officers from Florida to the southern border, a move Democrats dismiss as political theater.

Still, DeSantis' actions present a sharp contrast with Trump. The former president often threatened to withhold aid to Democratic officials who criticized him, including Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York. At other times, he appeared insensitive or clumsy in his response to people's suffering. During a visit to hurricane damaged Puerto Rico, for instance, Trump tossed rolls of paper towels into a crowd of residents.

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Mac Stipanovich, a former Republican campaign strategist, said DeSantis is 'less frightening than Trump' to some voters even as he steadily courts the former president's base.

DeSantis 'has a finely tuned sense of what is the best red meat, on any given day, to throw to the MAGA base and he does it with some skill and no shame,' Stipanovich said. 'Soon as we´re beyond the window of this tragedy, everybody will be at each other´s throats once again.'

Indeed, the debate

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