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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) sits next to former President Donald Trump during a meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House on December 13, 2018, in Washington, D.C.Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

(LifeSiteNews) – Former President Donald Trump launched a wave of new attacks on his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination over the weekend, attempting to undermine Florida’s Ron DeSantis on COVID-19, the issue that launched the popular governor to national stardom.

CNN reports that on Saturday, Trump told reporters aboard his plane that while there were “Republican governors that did not close their states” during the pandemic, “Florida was closed for a long period of time” and now DeSantis’s camp is “trying to rewrite history.” He claimed that DeSantis has “changed his tune a lot” on COVID, from lockdowns to vaccines.

That same day, during a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump claimed that “Ron would have not been governor if it wasn’t for me. So when I hear he might run, I consider that very disloyal.” Notably, Trump had a different reaction to the possibility of his former United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, entering the primary: “go by your heart if you want to run.”

He followed up with a pair of posts Sunday on his social network Truth Social, the first of which claimed that unspecified “revelations about Ron DeSanctimonious doing FAR WORSE than many other Republican governors, including that he unapologetically shut down Florida and its beaches, was [sic] interesting, indeed.”

While it is not disputed that DeSantis imposed a number of COVID restrictions (acting in part on data and guidance from the Trump administration, which criticized states for reopening “too soon”), the governor has openly expressed regret at what he calls the “huge mistake” of imposing any restrictions at all, and as more information came in he reversed course, quickly establishing one of the most anti-lockdown records in the country, defying insistence that his policies would lead to mass death.

It is also undisputed that DeSantis was an early supporter of the COVID vaccines, which Trump continues to support and claim credit for, though the governor’s position has changed as more data about their harms has come to light. For more than a year, DeSantis and his administration have spoken about the ineffectiveness of the shots, and in recent months his administration has conducted its own study, which concluded that they should not be taken by young men, and pushed for a grand jury investigation into the manufacturers.

On the subject of Florida’s beaches, conservative commentator Dana Loesch details that while some localities closed beaches, DeSantis actually “refused” to do so at the state level (prompting left-wing attorney Daniel Uhlfelder to infamously parade at beaches dressed like the Grim Reaper in protest), and in fact issued an executive order expressly protecting outdoor recreation as an “essential activity” along with religious services.

“Ron DeSanctimonious, who I made Governor in BOTH the Primary & the General, is also a Globalist, & so are his donors,” Trump “truthed” in his second post. “Jeb ‘Low Energy’ Bush was next to him last week. Check PAST!”

While it is true that Trump endorsed DeSantis’s first narrow gubernatorial victory, it is also true that DeSantis vocally supported and defended Trump as both governor and as a member of Congress, and that he won re-election last fall by a drastically expanded margin without Trump’s involvement.

Trump’s invocation of vague innuendo about DeSantis’s donors (who have not had a discernible impact on his words or actions against “globalist” interests) echoes a favored tactic of his most active online supporters, as does his attribution of significance to the fact that Bush, one of DeSantis’s Republican predecessors as Governor of Florida, attended his inauguration.

Trump also “reTruthed” a viral claim that DeSantis “signed a bill that had a clause for forced vaccinations and involuntary quarantine hidden way down at the very bottom of the bill.” In fact, the false claim originated from social media users misreading language from existing law in an online PDF. Under DeSantis, the old language allowing forced vaccinations was actually eliminated during a special legislative session.

“This law had been on the books since 2003. As soon as grassroots medical freedom groups brought this to DeSantis’ and lawmakers’ attention, it was amended to remove the word vaccination,” Justin Harvey of the watchdog group We Are Change Orlando told the Florida Standard. “To complicate matters, many were sharing the original bill language making it appear that no action was taken. I think people jumped the gun on this one. It happens,” he says.

When asked Tuesday about Trump’s attacks, DeSantis responded without mentioning the former president.

“I roll out of bed, I have people attacking me from all angles. It’s been happening for many, many years,” he said. “If you take a crisis situation like COVID, the good thing about it is when you’re an elected executive, you have to make all kinds of decisions. You gotta steer that ship. And the good thing is that the people are able to render a judgment on that, whether they reelect you or not.”

“And I’m happy to say, you know, in my case, not only did we win reelection, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has in the history of the state of Florida,” the governor continued. “And so what I would just say is – that verdict has been rendered by the people of the state of Florida.”

As the only declared candidate so far, Trump currently leads the 2024 Republican field in national polls, though DeSantis leads a number of state primary polls and fares better against incumbent Democrat President Joe Biden. DeSantis has not yet announced intentions to run for president, though is widely expected to make it official once Florida’s current legislative session concludes this spring.