OCALA, Florida (LifeSiteNews) – Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis brushed off a fresh wave of unprovoked attacks Wednesday from Donald Trump, declaring he will not “smear other Republicans” in a thinly-veiled contrast to the former president and 2024 hopeful.
On Wednesday, Trump shared a fresh batch of posts from supporters on his social network Truth Social, including one that accused DeSantis of “grooming high school girls with alcohol as a teenager,” with a blurry photo of a young man resembling DeSantis standing with three young women whose faces are pixelated.
The photo comes from an October 2021 article on HillReporter.com, the “news” arm of the pro-Democrat super PAC MeidasTouch. The story alleged that in 2001, as a 23-year-old high-school teacher, DeSantis attended parties with students. A year later, ahead of DeSantis’s landslide reelection to a second term, the New York Times identified the man in the photo as the governor, and reported that “several students recalled that Mr. DeSantis was a frequent presence at parties with the seniors who lived in town,” but also that the parties occurred after graduation. Neither article alleges sexual conduct of any kind, or that DeSantis encouraged underage drinking.
“That’s not Ron, is it? He would never do such a thing!” the former president quipped.
Trump also shared a post asking why DeSantis, as a member of the House of Representatives, allegedly “vote[d] against Trump’s border wall” by voting against HR 6136. Trump responded, “Wow, if I knew that I wouldn’t have Endorsed him (and he would have had to quit the race, down 35 points!).”
In fact, HR 6136, was not a border wall bill but rather an “amnesty bill” according to the pro-immigration enforcement group Numbers USA, which opposed the measure along with the House’s most ardent border hawks. Like most of his conservative colleagues, DeSantis instead voted for HR 4760, which Numbers USA said at the time “addressed nearly every aspect of the President’s [Trump’s] immigration principles, making permanent, needed changes to the immigration system.”
When asked by a reporter about Trump’s latest attacks in the context of DeSantis’s roundtable this week on fighting defamation, the governor cut off the question, noting that as a public figure, he had more recourse for defending himself than private citizens smeared by the mainstream media.
“And I’d also just say this, I spend my time delivering results for the people of Florida and fighting against Joe Biden. That’s how I spend my time,” DeSantis said. “I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans.”
The answer is the closest DeSantis has yet come to directly rebuking Trump, who has been attacking DeSantis for months amid growing buzz among conservatives for the former governor as the GOP’s next presidential nominee. DeSantis has not yet announced plans to run, but is widely expected to enter the race after Florida’s current legislative session concludes this spring. In the meantime, observers believe DeSantis is making a strategic choice not to engage Trump, and rather let the contrasts between the two men speak for themselves.
In November, DeSantis dismissed another question about Trump’s attacks by noting that “when you’re getting things done, you take incoming fire, that’s just the nature of it,” and inviting observers to “go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night,” when he won by 19.4 points while Republicans underperformed in the rest of the country.
Notably, Trump’s latest attacks came the day after DeSantis defended Trump against false claims that he colluded with the Russian government to rig the 2016 presidential election. “I mean, it all eventually was debunked and even in real time people were saying this, but they just kept cycling in this. And I think it just raises the question, you know, this obsession with these anonymous sources, where did that come from?” he said during the defamation event.
As the only declared candidate so far, former President Trump currently leads the 2024 Republican field in national polls, though the as-yet-undeclared DeSantis leads in overall favorability and a number of state primary polls, and polls better against incumbent Democrat President Joe Biden.