(The Center Square) – A prevailing question as the Republican primary kicks into high gear has been: will Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis return fire for former President Donald Trump’s attacks or hold back?
Since his announcement last week, DeSantis has gone after Trump and laid out what appears to be a leading criticism: the former president’s COVID-19 response.
A campaign video released online by DeSantis’ team features a montage of Trump’s comments as president. In the video Trump talks about the need to shut the country down, how only the president could make that decision, and speaks of his work with Anthony Fauci, who has become a villainous figure for most Republican primary voters.
“After Fauci’s lockdowns destroyed millions of lives, Donald Trump actually said Fauci ‘should be respected for the job’ he did,” DeSantis’ war room wrote on Twitter alongside the video.
DeSantis has repeatedly touted his own COVID-19 response. He took criticism for opposing lockdowns but was later vindicated as those lockdowns apparently did little to slow the spread of COVID while significantly hurting the economy.
“First, we need an honest reckoning about what happened during COVID,” DeSantis said during his announcement, calling the federal pandemic response “authoritarian” and not in line with the data. “I saw an interest in the narrative and politics over evidence…”
During the Twitter event announcing his candidacy, DeSantis took subtle shots at Trump without naming him, saying he had frustration with the former president’s inability to enact his agenda and blasted the “culture of losing” in the GOP. Later, though, DeSantis ramped up his attacks, honing in on Trump’s COVID response.
Those attacks have been repeated by DeSantis’ supporters. Rep. Thomas Massie, who praised DeSantis during his Twitter Spaces event, mimicked that argument on Twitter Friday.
“Fauci’s boss was Trump,” he wrote.
Trump has hit DeSantis fast and hard in a string of attacks before the Florida governor announced his candidacy. Nicknaming him “DeSanctimonious,” Trump has called DeSantis unelectable and said he needs a “personality transplant.”
One of Trump’s most persistent attacks against DeSantis so far is that DeSantis would never have become governor in the first place if not for Trump’s endorsement. That argument has already appeared in multiple campaign videos since DeSantis’ announcement.
Trump posted another video on TruthSocial Sunday to that effect, this time of DeSantis thanking Trump for his endorsement and a Fox News anchor crediting Trump’s endorsement with DeSantis’ surge in support.
“This is a Classic,” Trump wrote with the video. “A 27 point DeSanctus swing from my Endorsement. A must watch!”
DeSantis has hit Trump for failing to deal with immigration and also for a criminal justice bill Trump signed that many conservatives called weak on crime. Crime has since become a major concern for voters as a crime wave has hit many of the nation’s large cities.
DeSantis also attacked Trump in an interview with Eric Bolling, saying Trump has lost his edge since when he first announced in 2015.
”But when he’s taken Disney’s side against me, I just kind of wonder, like, okay, I get he wants to hit me, but don’t take the side of a multinational corporation that wants to sexualize kids,” DeSantis said. “He’s also hitting me against voting against immigration amnesty.
“So I’m not sure what his strategy is, but I think he’s taking positions that are a little bit different than four or five years ago,” he added.