MIAMI, FL – If day one of Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign showed the country anything, it’s that COVID is here to stay.
At least in the Republican primaries.
On his first day in the ring, the Florida governor toured conservative media and threw some soft punches at Donald Trump, especially over the pandemic, where he gained a following among conservatives for pushing back on restrictions and mandates earlier than others.
“[Trump] did great for three years, but when he turned the country over to Fauci in March of 2020, that destroyed millions of people’s lives,” the Florida governor told Glenn Beck on Thursday. “I think when people look back, that 2020 year was not a good year for the country as a whole. It was a situation where Florida started to stand alone, so I think that that’s [an] important contrast.”
On Twitter, the governor’s team and allies spent the day litigating the early days of the virus in a back-and-forth with Trumpworld. The “DeSantis War Room” Twitter account posted a throwback video in the afternoon of Trump defending shutting down the country in March 2020, while the “Trump War Room” engaged in a contentious back-and-forth with DeSantis aide Christina Pushaw over the governor’s own early restrictions and mortality rate in comparison to New York, with allied pundits popping in to throw chairs.
“What specifically was the best aspect of Cuomo and New York’s Covid response?” Pushaw tweeted at one point, complete with a meme drawing of a masked figure with needles in its body asking to “govern me harder daddy.” The Trump team's response began: “First of all, nobody wants to be your daddy.”
DeSantis and his allies have been telegraphing COVID will be key to his campaign for months, so its appearance is not a surprise.
That he hit Trump with it so early is more notable: A number of other Republican presidential hopefuls have been more reluctant to offer up direct contrasts with the former president. DeSantis’ initial launch events on Wednesday largely ignored Trump. If today is any indication, things against the two front runners could heat up quickly, and certainly long before they meet on a debate stage (if Trump attends).
And while the COVID battle took center stage, DeSantis made clear Thursday he’d try to get to Trump’s right on other issues as well. In an interview with New Hampshire radio host Jack Heath, the Florida governor accused Trump of “moving to the left,” pointing to Trump’s attacks on him for not supporting a bill that would have traded legal status for DREAMers (an “immigration amnesty” as DeSantis put it) for a border wall. He also mentioned the “almost $8 trillion in debt in just four years” he racked up as president. In an interview with Dana Loesch, he criticized as “unconstitutional” Trump’s 2018 call for red flag laws that “take the guns first, go through due process second.”
Where was Trump during this campaign’s very online start? Touching grass, literally: He hit the greens at his golf club in Virginia.
“He’s very disloyal, but he’s got no personality,” Trump told reporters in between holes. “And if you don’t have personality, politics is a very hard business.”