Leaked 2018 footage of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis engaged in debate prep during his first gubernatorial campaign, has appeared in a new ad sponsored by the Trump Super PAC Make America Great Again Inc.
ABC News, which first obtained the footage, has highlighted portions of the debate prep that reportedly show DeSantis, who is now officially vying with Trump for the GOP presidential nomination, wrestling with how best to handle charges of racism. Republican voters, accustomed to tuning out such nonsense, will recognize those charges as predictably bogus.
Of deeper interest to Republican voters is President Trump’s use of that leaked footage to draw distinctions between himself and Governor DeSantis.
Ron DeSantis fought against President Donald Trump’s America First agenda while in Washington. pic.twitter.com/YytIGaSjyX
— MAGA War Room (@MAGAIncWarRoom) May 24, 2023
The ad features two key elements designed to draw this distinction.
First, it focuses on 2016-18, when DeSantis, then a third-term Florida congressman, “voted repeatedly to cut Social Security and Medicare,” pushed “a new 23% national sales tax,” and voted “against funding for Trump’s wall.”
Second, it features a clip from the leaked footage that shows DeSantis answering a debate-prep question about whether there is a difference between him and Trump. “Obviously there is because I, I mean, I voted contrary to him in the Congress,” DeSantis said.
To win the Republican nomination for president, DeSantis must convince millions of Trump voters that he, the popular Florida governor, is a more electable version of the former president whom they adore.
Trump, on the other hand, needs only to hold together his MAGA movement. It appears his early strategy will be to cast DeSantis as a “Swamp Creature,” the preferred candidate of a weak and corrupt party establishment.
There is another relevant clip from the leaked footage that does not appear in the Trump ad. If widely circulated, however, this clip will do DeSantis no favors with the MAGA base.
At one point, DeSantis leans forward against his podium and says, with mild exasperation, that he must be careful on the question of differences between himself and Trump. “I have to frame it in a way that’s not gonna piss off all his voters,” DeSantis said.
Viewers may decide for themselves whether DeSantis’s manner and tone suggest mere strategic calculation — understandable, given the setting — or whether they hint at concealed contempt for the voters he hopes to win.
Conversely, Trump continues to take calculated risks in his aggressive campaign against a red-state governor whose attitudes and policies, particularly on wokeness and COVID-related tyranny, remain popular with Republicans.
The broader question is whether DeSantis’s candidacy signals a civil war between the Republican Party’s establishment and its increasingly working-class base.
DeSantis has conservative and libertarian credentials that endear him to many Republican voters. If they perceive DeSantis as having made policy missteps, those same voters likely will forgive him in the same way that Trump loyalists have forgiven the former president’s perceived errors on his administration’s COVID-era policies.
If he hopes to woo Trump voters, however, DeSantis cannot be the candidate of the political insiders, whom Trump voters detest.
In short, DeSantis cannot be the candidate of “The Swamp” — and nothing says “The Swamp” quite like condescending disdain toward Trump voters.
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