The former president’s vicious, year-long campaign of humiliation, which has left his future political actions unknown, sank the Florida governor’s aspirations for the White House. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was left to pick up the pieces of his political future after being pushed out of the presidential race after only one contest as a result of Donald J. Trump’s vicious assault on him, which reached new lows in his demeaning yearlong campaign.
In front of massive rally crowds, Mr. Trump portrayed Mr. DeSantis as a weakling, saying that DeSantis had groveled and pleaded “on his knees” for an endorsement during the 2018 Florida governor’s campaign. Without providing any evidence, Mr. Trump made a number of sexually charged accusations against Mr. DeSantis, including that he wore high heels, might be gay, and possibly even a pedophile. He assured Mr. DeSantis that the national spotlight would make him cry for “mommy.”
Fearing further damage to his campaign, Mr. DeSantis refrained from taking a stand. In his most crucial campaign to date, the governor withheld the aggressive rhetoric that had made him famous as one of the most vicious political brawlers within the Republican Party.
Defeated and debased, he is now. He had begun his campaign as the natural successor to a Republican Party that had been “Trumpified,” so his Sunday withdrawal was a major setback. With his 242 days on the campaign road characterized by a merciless barrage of insults, Mr. Trump has damaged his reputation and will need to undertake extensive repair work with Republican voters and funders before he can think about his next political move.
When asked about his disparaging remarks about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, President Trump responded, “I don’t care if he’s a Republican,” during a November conference of the Republican Party of Florida, near the governor’s home turf. “We gave him a good thrashing, and he’s going down like a wounded crane.”
Mr. DeSantis’s reaction—or lack thereof—was even more disheartening. He seemed reluctant or unwilling to retaliate against Mr. Trump or launch an offensive after releasing a campaign film in 2022 portraying him as an avenging political warrior sent from on high. On topics like abortion, where the former president could be weak with conservatives, the DeSantis campaign refrained from taking a tougher stance, which even Mr. Trump’s advisors found surprising.
Mr. DeSantis’s irritable personality—which could display an uncomfortable blend of detachedness, irritability, and facial tics—made him an easy target for Mr. Trump, who appeared to take pleasure in treating him like a high school locker room bully.
Even so, Mr. DeSantis has maintained a solid base of support in Florida and is generally well-received elsewhere. In order to win over Trump’s devoted followers without alienating them, he had to do what no Republican had done before: run for president. For a long time, Mr. Trump has ignored the bounds of acceptable political conduct, such as the calls for the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton and the racial “birther” myth about President Obama. However, his campaign’s brutality toward a fellow Republican reached unprecedented heights.
Steven Cheung, chief spokesperson for President Trump, frequently spearheaded the communications, drawing on his experience as a public relations specialist for the Ultimate Fighting Championship to unleash vicious slams with the same degree of crushing chokehold seen in the sport. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Mr. Cheung had warned Mr. DeSantis of “unimaginable pain that he’s never felt before in his life” in Iowa. He questioned Mr. DeSantis’s manhood in a press release, comparing his gait to that of “a 10-year-old girl who had just raided her mom’s closet and discovered heels for the first time.”
In addition to calling the governor of Florida a “desperate eunuch,” Mr. Cheung questioned Mr. DeSantis’s motivations for publicly “cucking himself” (a sexual slang term meaning a man’s frailty) and accused him of seeking out “new sugar daddies” to finance his campaign. He berated Mr. DeSantis, calling him a “disloyal dog.” As a defense, Mr. DeSantis used a more conventional strategy. In a daily email to the news media, his team introduced a “Trump Accident Tracker” that detailed Mr. Trump’s gaffes while campaigning. Mr. Trump’s “juvenile insults,” he said, were unpopular with the electorate. (On the other hand, the fact that Trump rallies were filled with laughter belies that claim.)
At some point, Mr. DeSantis attempted to step it up a notch. In response to claims that Mr. Trump sported shoe lifts to give the impression that he was taller, Mr. DeSantis cast doubt on Mr. Trump’s masculinity. “I will wear a boot on my head if Donald Trump can summon the balls to show up to the debate,” Mr. DeSantis added. It seems like the line missed its mark. Even Mr. DeSantis has acknowledged that he is “not an entertainer,” in contrast to Mr. Trump.
Simultaneously, a troll army of pro-Trump internet influencers began posting videos of people kicking Mr. DeSantis in the groin and other offensive content. Mr. DeSantis’s web business, on the other hand, was completely disastrous. Inside Trump’s headquarters, where animosity for the governor was rampant, there was a fixation on Mr. DeSantis, which contributed to the divergent approaches.
Not only was Mr. Trump enraged by what he perceived as a remarkable lack of loyalty on the part of Mr. DeSantis, but the Trump campaign also features former aides to the Florida governor who were either fired or felt mistreated by him, such as Susie Wiles, who was a close confidante of the former president. It was still an axe to grind for many.
On Sunday, Ms. Wiles took to social media to post the words “Bye, bye” in reference to her former boss, who had attempted to exclude her from Republican politics.
On Sunday, Mr. DeSantis offered a swift endorsement, which could help heal some of those scars. A few hours later, Mr. Trump promised to stop using the “DeSanctimonious” moniker, and his supporters started posting messages to welcome Mr. DeSantis back to the Democratic Party. According to aides, however, Trump and DeSantis have not yet spoken. The question of whether or not the guys could mend their relationship prompted Mr. Cheung to hold his tongue. “New Hampshire is our main focus,” he stated.