The New York Times published an article that quickly made the rounds among political insiders, especially in the Republican Party. Its lede was straightforward:
For months, former President Donald J. Trump has been grumbling quietly to friends and visitors to his Palm Beach mansion about a rival Republican power center in another Florida mansion, some 400 miles to the north. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a man Mr. Trump believes he put on the map, has been acting far less like an acolyte and more like a future competitor, Mr. Trump complains. With his stock rising fast in the party, the governor has conspicuously refrained from saying he would stand aside if Mr. Trump runs for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.
The article coincided with an Axios report that said the former president “is trashing Ron DeSantis in private as an ingrate with a ‘dull personality.’”
These reports ran 10 months ago, when Trump’s simmering rage about the Florida governor could still be described as “quiet” grumbling and “private” complaints.
As both Republicans look ahead to the 2024 presidential campaign, and much of the right sees DeSantis as the big GOP winner of the midterm elections — and Trump as the cycle’s big GOP loser — the words “quiet” and “private” no longer apply.
The first sign of public trouble came over the weekend when the former president headlined a rally in Pennsylvania, where he mocked the Florida governor as “Ron DeSanctimonious.” A few days later, after DeSantis won a second term, Trump used his social media platform to note that he received more votes in 2020 than the governor did this year.
Late yesterday, the former president abandoned all subtlety, slamming DeSantis as an “average” governor with “great public relations.” Trump added a series of related missives, taking total credit for the DeSantis’ rise to political prominence.
Part of the online tantrum included this eye-opening claim: “[A]fter the Race, when votes were being stolen by the corrupt Election process in Broward County, and Ron was going down ten thousand votes a day, along with now-Senator Rick Scott, I sent in the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys, and the ballot theft immediately ended, just prior to them running out of the votes necessary to win. I stopped his Election from being stolen.”
It’s difficult to say with confidence what in the world he was talking about, and it’s likely that the former president was simply sharing a delusional story he concocted in his head. But if Trump actually dispatched FBI agents and federal prosecutors to interfere with Florida’s election tallies in 2018, that would be worthy of its own investigation.
Stepping back, what we see is a former president, the week before launching another national campaign, struggling with blame after many of his candidates failed in this year’s midterms, having a meltdown.
A small man, driven by jealousy and insecurity, sees an understudy getting attention. Fearing his mini-me will interfere with his ambitions, Trump has made a decision to treat DeSantis as a threat.
At a post-election White House press conference this week, a reporter asked President Joe Biden about Trump and DeSantis. The Democrat responded that he expects it to be “fun watching them take on each other.”
As things stand, it looks like Biden was right.