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(LifeSiteNews) – The mainstream media has apparently decided now is the time to start stoking discontent among conservatives over the two Republicans they’re most likely to choose from for the 2024 presidential nomination, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. But despite their shady motives for stirring the pot, the fact remains that there’s a serious decision to be made between the former president and the Florida governor.

It started this month not with the MSM, but with Trump himself taking a thinly-veiled swipe at DeSantis, calling it “gutless” for unnamed politicians to not answer whether they’ve had a COVID-19 booster shot. The month before, DeSantis had said in an interview that he had taken “the normal shot,” implying he hasn’t had a booster after his original vaccination last year, but not spelling it out to the satisfaction of the mainstream media.

A few days later, DeSantis gave a lengthy interview to the Ruthless podcast, during which he had some harsh words for Dr. Anthony Fauci but rejected as “bait” the idea there was animosity between himself and Trump. Nevertheless, countless headlines tried to frame his Fauci comments as a dig at Trump, who infamously refused to fire Fauci from the White House COVID-19 Task Force.

Then Axios reported that they’ve been told Trump is privately miffed that DeSantis won’t publicly rule out a 2024 presidential run. Obviously, the press doesn’t exactly have the best track record with anonymous sources, but the report isn’t exactly a stretch from The Donald’s well-known public persona. The New York Times reported that DeSantis has privately “told friends he believes” Trump “is asking too much”; Trump told Sean Hannity on Thursday that talk of bad blood between the two is “totally fake news.”

Whatever the truth behind the gossip, Trump has good reason to be worried about DeSantis. The Sunshine State governor’s reputation as a conservative results machine started climbing as soon as he took office in 2019, but it was the advent of COVID that made the contrast especially stark. 

Whereas the Trump administration’s pandemic response was a rather mixed bag, thanks in large part to the aforementioned Fauci influence, Florida distinguished itself by protecting vulnerable residents without sacrificing freedom or jobs, as The Blaze senior editor Daniel Horowitz summarized in May 2020:

They said DeSantis was killing his state’s people by not issuing a stay-at home order early enough and never issuing a full lockdown against church services and other activities. Then, on May 4, he decided to end even the tepid lockdown. Last in, first out. What are the results?

Despite the fact that Florida is the haven for those most susceptible to the virus, the elderly, the state’s numbers beat almost every comparable state […]

While it wasn’t as cool and heroic as locking up every healthy person with near-zero risk in their homes, DeSantis quietly barred hospitals from sending COVID-positive patients to nursing homes – the exact opposite of what Cuomo and many Democrat governors did. He also used the National Guard to secure nursing homes rather than to spy on people.

The results?

In New Jersey, 51 senior care residents out of every 100,000 people died. In New York, nearly 27 per 100,000 have died. Even in smaller and younger Colorado, more than 10 nursing home residents have died per capita. In Florida? Just 3.5 per 100,000. In the state of “God’s waiting room,” just .008% of the population died of COVID-19.

DeSantis was even pressured by the White House to go along with the flat-earth lockdown science. But he understood that the threat of the virus is limited to a known population and that outdoor transmission is negligible. So he put his resources where they were needed.

Since then, DeSantis has distinguished himself as perhaps the GOP’s most aggressive elected crusader on the issues of greatest concern to conservatives, including Big Tech censorship, public education content, illegal immigration, the Left’s war on police, and the transgender war on sex distinctions. His resistance to COVID insanity has been similarly comprehensive, standing firm against mask mandates, power-hungry localities, and school closings, as well as supporting more treatment options than just taking a shot (that won’t prevent infection anyway) and hoping for the best.

Those shots represent the latest, and perhaps most striking, contrast between DeSantis and Trump. While the 45th president is nominally opposed to mandates, he is much more concerned with ensuring he gets credit for the vaccines’ creation.

It’s true that DeSantis too was generally supportive of the COVID vaccines early in their rollout. But as the available information about their effectiveness has evolved, so have the governor’s statements. He certainly hasn’t been shy about calling out the fact that they don’t prevent transmission, and last fall he even hired a Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who is willing to speak out about the fact that the shots’ pushers aren’t being transparent about their safety.

More important, DeSantis has stood firm on Americans’ freedom to choose or refuse them. Rhetorically, he forcefully makes the case against both the backward logic of vaccine mandates and the dangerous ramifications of enshrining discrimination and segregation on the basis of personal medical decisions. And he has backed up those words with action: legislation, lawsuits, enforcement, and pledging noncompliance with federal intrusions on medical liberty.

To be sure, Trump still has certain strengths. He continues to top most polls among Republicans, and his core fans are among the most intense and loyal people you’ll ever find in politics. There’s also something appealing about the prospect of a Trump-Biden rematch, a chance for The Donald to say “I told you so” in light of Sleepy Joe’s abysmal presidential performance, particularly his almost-instant tacit admission that one of Biden’s most potent claims, that he would do better than Trump at stopping COVID-19, was blatant false advertising.

One thing is clear:The 2024 Republican primary is shaping up to be the ultimate display of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. And with the current administration more hostile to freedom than any before it (and the voters propping it up even worse), the stakes have never been higher. So choose carefully.

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Calvin Freiburger is a Wisconsin-based conservative writer and 2011 graduate of Hillsdale College. His commentary and analysis have been featured on NewsReal Blog, Live Action, and various other conservative websites. Before joining LifeSiteNews, he spent two years in Washington, DC, working to build support for the Life at Conception Act with the National Pro-Life Alliance, then worked a year and a half as assistant editor of TheFederalistPapers.org. You can follow him on Twitter @CalFreiburger, and check out his personal website, ConservativeStandards.com.

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