Former President Trump was in his element on Saturday night when he labeled his Republican rival Ron DeSantis “a wounded falling bird.”
Speaking to Republicans at the Florida Republican Party’s Freedom Summit in Kissimmee, Trump talked about how his position had shifted from someone who had previously supported Florida’s governor.
Under a sign that read “Florida is Trump Country,” about a half hour into his speech, Trump recounted how DeSantis came to him in 2018 and begged for his support.
“He went from very little to a lot, and I got him elected,” Trump crowed.
‘I supported him and became a rocket within 24 hours. Then we got him past the election because we held some huge Trump rallies for him. I told him you’re so far behind that if George Washington and Abraham Lincoln came back from the dead and supported you, you couldn’t win.
Former President Donald Trump mocked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during the annual Florida Republican Summit, calling him “a wounded bird falling from the sky”
Under a sign that read “Florida is Trump Country,” about half an hour into his speech, Trump recounted how DeSantis came to him in 2018 and begged for his endorsement
‘Tears flowed from his eyes. And I said, ‘Sure.’ I need your approval, sir! I need your approval, please! I need your fucking approval, please!”
‘Four years later he is asked, “Are you going to run against the president?”
‘He said, “I have no comment!”, which means he’s going to run towards me.
‘I said, let’s hit him hard now. My people said, ‘Sir, don’t hit him,'” Trump told DeSantis’ audience.
“He’s a Republican.” I said, “I don’t care if he’s a Republican.” And we hit him hard and now he’s like a wounded bird falling from the sky,” Trump said, drawing laughter from the audience.
“We’re going to win the Florida primary for the third time in a row, and we’re going to win the state in a landslide next November,” Trump told the boisterous crowd on Saturday evening.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also addressed the crowd
DeSantis was initially expected to be Trump’s biggest rival after winning reelection as governor by a huge margin last November — but DeSantis has struggled since launching his campaign in May and is now a distant second.
It was a show of strength for Trump in a state where DeSantis has controlled state politics since Trump’s 2018 endorsement en route to winning the first of two gubernatorial elections.
Now, two months before the first vote in the 2024 presidential nomination process, the two men have an increasingly personal and abusive rivalry.
The second-term governor is facing the reality that Trump has dominated national Republican politics since he launched his first bid for the White House in 2015, when DeSantis was a little-known congressman in Florida.
DeSantis, Trump and other candidates signed qualifying papers Saturday for the March 2024 primary in Florida.
The primaries could be crucial, but only if the governor or other candidates can reduce Trump’s strength in the previous candidate states that preceded it.
Trump’s 2018 endorsement, pictured above, put DeSantis on track to win the first of two gubernatorial elections
Trump’s presence loomed large, and he didn’t hesitate in his criticism of DeSantis, saying, “I don’t care if he’s a Republican; we hit him hard.”
Trump has spent months portraying DeSantis as disloyal for running against him
Former President Donald Trump, center, is on stage surrounded by supporters at the Republican Party of Florida’s Freedom Summit in Kissimmee, Florida
Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis waves to attendees while carrying his son Mason in his arms after speaking at the Republican Party of Florida’s Freedom Summit
“Weakening DeSantis’ position in Florida is a clear goal of the Trump campaign,” explained Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“His whole message is based on the idea that he is a great governor. If Republican officials in Florida choose Trump over DeSantis, it really weakens the core of DeSantis’ position.”
Next week, DeSantis will join several candidates in Miami for the third Republican debate.
Trump will skip again and hold a competing event in the nearby suburb of Hialeah.
Next week, DeSantis will join several candidates in Miami for the third Republican debate. Trump will skip again and host a competing event
Trump has spent months portraying DeSantis as disloyal for running against him.
The Trump campaign has also mocked DeSantis’ smile and interactions with voters.
DeSantis has pointed out Trump’s blunders and suggested he no longer has the same energy he once did.
DeSantis was initially expected to be Trump’s biggest rival after winning re-election as governor by a wide margin last November, but DeSantis has struggled since launching his campaign in May and is now a distant second.
A Des Moines Register poll released last Monday showed him tied in Iowa with Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who served as U.N. ambassador under Trump.
Both were at 16 percent, 27 percentage points behind the former president.