Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) took a not-particularly-subtle shot at former President Donald Trump on Monday ahead of Trump’s likely indictment, saying he personally would not know how to pay “hush money” to a “porn star” ― prompting Trump to fire back with a reminder of allegations that DeSantis drank with underage girls when he taught a boarding school in Georgia.
The back-and-forth between the two leading contenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 highlighted the bind a likely Trump prosecution would put his rivals in as they seek to dethrone a former president with a history of demanding total loyalty from the top rungs of the GOP.
At the same time, DeSantis suggested that Trump’s prosecution is politically motivated, noting that liberal financier George Soros, who is regularly invoked in antisemitic conspiracies on the right, had backed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis said at an event in Florida on Monday morning. “I can’t speak to that.”
“But what I can speak to is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back many, many years ago, to try to use something about porn star hush money payments, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office,” DeSantis continued. “And I think that’s fundamentally wrong.”
DeSantis’ criticism of Bragg was not nearly enough to satiate Trump, who has repeatedly attacked the Florida governor ahead of DeSantis’ likely presidential bid.
“Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are ‘underage’ (or possibly a man!)” Trump wrote on his struggling social media site, TruthSocial. “I’m sure he will want to fight these misfits just like I do!”
Trump accompanied the post with a screenshot of a tweet from the ultra-partisan liberal outlet MeidasTouch with the text: “Ron DeSantis partied with underage girls at drinking party while teaching at Georgia school.”
DeSantis is widely expected to seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination ― which would put him in competition with Trump, who has already declared his candidacy. The Florida governor has faced pressure from Trump allies to criticize the looming indictment. He is evidently attempting to split the difference by both attacking the prosecutor and reminding social conservatives of Trump’s behavior.
If an indictment comes as expected this week, it would mark the first instance in American history of a former president facing criminal charges. Bragg appears likely to charge Trump with crimes related to a $130,000 payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels in the final days of his 2016 run for the presidency.
However, the Manhattan case is the least serious of the potential criminal cases targeting Trump. A federal special prosecutor, Jack Smith, is investigating both Trump’s handling of classified documents and his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. And a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, could soon hand up charges related to Trump’s efforts to change election results there.
DeSantis also indicated he would play no role in any fights over whether Trump, who spends much of his time at the Mar-a-Lago social club in Palm Beach, will face extradition to New York.
“I have no interest in getting involved in some sort of manufactured circus by some Soros DA,” he said. “I’ve got real issues I’ve got to deal with.”
That response, in particular, has drawn renewed fire from Trump allies eager to paint DeSantis as a faux-populist more in sync with maligned GOP establishment figures than the former president. Trump’s eldest son, Don Jr., was one such critic.
DeSantis devoted much of his response, which came after a weekend of silence on the matter, to attacking Bragg and Soros, the latter of whom has supported criminal justice reformers running for district attorney jobs across the country.
“The real victims are ordinary New Yorkers, ordinary Americans in all these different jurisdictions because of the reckless political agenda these Soros DAs bring to the job,” DeSantis said.
Crime spiked throughout the U.S. during and after the height of the coronavirus pandemic, before dipping last year. But there is little evidence that cities with liberal prosecutors saw bigger increases in crime than those with traditional law-and-order district attorneys.
In 2022, for instance, New York City’s murder rate was one-third that of Jacksonville, a city in DeSantis’ home state with a Republican district attorney.