On Thursday night, not long after news of former President Donald Trump’s forthcoming indictment and arrest broke, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) defended his likely future presidential rival, insisting the prosecution was “un-American.”
On Friday morning, a super PAC affiliated with Trump started airing at least $1.2 million worth of ads attacking DeSantis for supporting cuts to Medicare and Social Security in the past, insisting the governor “doesn’t share our values” and is “just not ready to be president.”
The split screen illustrates the bind facing DeSantis as he prepares a likely presidential bid against Trump, who remains overwhelmingly popular with the Republican base even if some GOP voters may harbor worries about his electability, age or ability to serve only one further term in office.
Trump is an expert at portraying any attack on him as an attack on his supporters writ large, making any rhetorical assault DeSantis could mount risky. However, he has no qualms about attacking other Republicans — and GOP voters have long seemed to relish the former president’s put-downs and occasionally crude insults.
Polling indicates DeSantis and Trump are in a two-man race for the GOP nomination to challenge President Joe Biden, with Trump’s lead on DeSantis growing in recent weeks. So far, however, the battle between the two has been largely one-sided, a dynamic Trump’s indictment seems likely to reinforce.
“The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head,” DeSantis wrote on Twitter on Thursday night, without ever mentioning Trump by name. “The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent.”
George Soros, a billionaire financier and philanthropist, did support a group that backed Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney bringing the charges against Trump, in his election in 2021. Republicans have regularly invoked Soros, who is the subject of multiple antisemitic conspiracy theories, in defending Trump.
The charges against Trump are expected to focus on a payment to Stormy Daniels, a former pornographic actress, to keep quiet about her affair with Trump ahead of the 2016 election, which Trump narrowly won over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
DeSantis went even further, making a likely unnecessary promise to protect Trump from extradition. Trump is expected to surrender to prosecutors in New York next week.
“Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis has not been totally quiet, notably swiping at Trump over the indictment earlier this month, saying he doesn’t “know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.”
But that pales into the barrage of insults Trump has thrown at DeSantis in recent months, including calling him a “groomer,” attacking him for supporting ethanol subsidy cuts — a critical issue in the early-voting state of Iowa — and repeated attacks over both his record as governor of Florida and his support for Paul Ryan-variety fiscal conservatism, including cuts to entitlements, when he was a member of the U.S. House.
The fiscal conservatism is the subject of the ad from MAGA, Inc., the super PAC supporting Trump.
“In Congress, DeSantis voted three separate times to cut Social Security,” a male narrator says in the ad, which is expected to air on Fox News and CNN. “Worse? DeSantis voted to cut Medicare two times.” (The ad refers to DeSantis’ support for non-binding budget resolutions put forward by the Republican Study Committee, a group of hard-line conservatives in the House.)
Allies of DeSantis, who is not expected to officially announce a presidential bid until after Florida’s legislative session ends in May, suggested to The New York Times earlier this week they would soon attempt to attack Trump as insufficiently tough on crime, citing Trump’s support for the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform package he signed into law in 2018.
There’s just one issue: DeSantis voted for a version of the same law.