DeSantis Hits Trump Where He's Weakest - Without Mentioning Trump at All

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Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made a very bold move when he announced he was going after mRNA vaccine manufacturers in the wake of COVID-19. That move drew a lot of eyes and got a lot of people talking. Yesterday, he confirmed he is filing “a petition with the Supreme Court of Florida to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate any and all wrongdoing in Florida with respect to Covid-19 vaccines.”


That’s a very interesting play. The health concerns of the vaccines as they are now aside, it’s not just a good political move for him personally but also the best play if you’re looking to attack former President Donald Trump from his right.

Which was noted by NBC News’ Marc Caputo.

For about a year, Donald Trump’s confidants, advisers and boosters have worried that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was positioning himself to get to the right of the former president over the issue of Covid vaccines.

DeSantis, who is mulling whether to challenge Trump in the 2024 Republican primary for president, deepened those suspicions Tuesday.


DeSantis was a major booster of the vaccines last year and once called them lifesaving, but he later turned against them, mirroring a shift in conservative Republican opinion. By January, he refused to say if he even got a booster, and that prompted Trump — whose Operation Warp Speed led to the rapid development of the vaccines — to take a thinly veiled shot at him, albeit not by name, for being “gutless.”

There are several quotes from Republicans and people in Trump’s orbit, panning DeSantis’ play here.

“Prior to this, his position was identical to Trump’s, and he advocated the efficiency and safety of vaccines. That’s his record,” said Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump and an outspoken critic of DeSantis.

“This is a shot across the bow. We know exactly what Ron is up to,” said another Trump adviser who spoke more bluntly, but on the condition of anonymity to be able to speak freely.

“The fact is, we’ve seen this coming for a year, ever since Ron started to get anti-vax,” the Republican said, explaining the governor’s opposition to the vaccine. “Yes, there’s a portion of our base that is anti-vax and some people could walk away from Trump over it. That’s why Ron is doing it. It’s so transparent.”

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Trump, said in a written statement that that “after China unleashed this deadly virus onto the rest of the world, President Trump’s administration worked tirelessly to secure medical equipment to save the lives of Americans who were infected.”


I could go on, but at the risk of copying Caputo’s entire article, I won’t. But you get the idea. Trumpworld believes this is a purely political move to get to Trump’s right, but whether it is or isn’t, it is a move that forces those in Trump’s orbit to come to terms with the fact that the COVID-19 response is where the former president is weakest with conservatives who support him.

Florida DeSantis
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

It’s long been suspected that DeSantis was going to mount a 2024 presidential bid, Trump or no Trump. But since Trump has already declared his intention to run, despite the fact that his campaign really has failed to launch in any meaningful way, it doesn’t seem like DeSantis (if he is running) is really bothered by his presence.

Yes, Trump still has a significant portion of voters who are, for lack of a better term, OnlyTrump. Like the NeverTrump crowd, there is only one path forward in their minds. Unlike the NeverTrump crowd – who are so anti-Trump that anything in the Republican Party that you can tie to Trump (even in the most insignificant way) must be rejected – the OnlyTrump crowd limits themselves to just Trump.

That makes it difficult, but not impossible, for someone like DeSantis to chart a path forward with them. A focus on the missteps of the pandemic is one way to help.

But there is one important thing to note with all this. DeSantis is making these moves in the same way he’s responding to Trump – by not mentioning him at all.

Trump has entered the conversation because DeSantis’ actions, not his words, put him up against Trump. This isn’t DeSantis seeking a fight. It’s him moving forward, knowing that Trump will try to pick a fight without ever planning to take him up on that fight. We saw in 2016 what happens when you get into a mud-flinging contest with Trump, and DeSantis isn’t making that mistake.



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