Former President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came from the left and even cited progressive studies to back up his statements, political strategists said.
The unusual tactic — called “bizarre” by one expert — comes as DeSantis is presumed to be Trump’s main rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, even though the Florida governor has not announced that he is running.
“These types of political attacks are bizarre and what voters expect from Democrat antagonists rather than fellow Republicans,” Republican strategist Colin Reed told Fox News Digital.
Trump released the “The Real Ron DeSantis Playbook,” which included several attacks on DeSantis, citing progressive sources such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Florida Policy Institute and MSNBC Host Joy Reid.
The playbook questions DeSantis’ record as governor on issues like a “failing education system” and “failing medical” environment while also citing ESPN.
“ESPN wrote that Florida is the Worst State in The Nation To Die,” the release said.
The statement prompted a column from the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board that argued Trump is “proving again that he has no fixed policy principles.”
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Former President Donald Trump, left, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Getty Images)
Democratic strategist Kevin Walling disagreed with WSJ’s assessment and said that Trump’s attacks from the left are a wise strategy that has provided tangible proof of effectiveness.
“I think former President Trump has well established his conservative bona fides — just look at his three Supreme Court appointees who reversed Roe and delivered a victory for the right,” said Walling, a former Biden 2020 campaign surrogate and the vice president at HGCreative.
“His base trusts him on these issues, which gives him the freedom to attack Governor DeSantis on issues like Social Security and Medicare cuts, which also definitely resonates in Florida.”
Walling told Fox News Digital that recent polls show Trump widening the gap with DeSantis, which may mean the plan is working.
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Former President Donald Trump speaks during a 2024 election campaign rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25, 2023. (SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)
“You have also seen a shift in recent weeks with Trump, and other leading national Republicans, really questioning DeSantis’ thinking when it comes to singling out American companies like Disney, something the GOP has historically stood against,” Walling explained. “It’s a politically smart tactic that clearly is working, given the Florida governor’s recent drop in the polls.”
However, several Republican strategists took a tone more similar to that of The Wall Street Journal and Reed. Kevin Seifert, who served as chief of staff to former GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan, said there was nothing surprising about Trump’s latest attacks.
“No one should be shocked he has gone from praising DeSantis’ record to trashing it in the blink of an eye,” Seifert said. “Intellectual consistency has never been one of Trump’s defining characteristics, and he certainly has never let facts get in the way of attacking his political opponents.”
“When Trump feels threatened, he lashes out with whatever attack lines are available, regardless of their accuracy or their source,” Seifert added. “When he wants to revise history to fit a narrative, he does so without hesitation. His supporters in the Republican primary expect this behavior while others, namely general election voters, are turned off by it.”
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives a political speech at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York, on April 1, 2023. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Trump has also criticized DeSantis’ ongoing feud with Disney over a controversial parental rights bill and slammed his handling of the coronavirus pandemic — which many conservatives praise him for.
“The COVID rhetoric is especially confusing, since the Florida governor, along with other GOP chief executives, took on the slings and arrows for having the courage to lead their states out of lockdowns rather than follow the unelected medical so-called experts,” Reed said.
Republican strategist Doug Heye, former Republican National Committee communications director, said “nothing Trump does has to make sense.”
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Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped by a Buc-ee’s for a surprise book signing on March 2, 2023. (Team DeSantis)
“See an opportunity to attack and take it is how he campaigned and governed. Since he’s not a conservative by any conventional definition, attacks can come left, right or center,” he said.
Hank Sheinkopf, veteran Democratic political consultant and president of Sheinkopf Communications, told Fox News Digital the attempts to “undermine Florida Governor DeSantis’ campaign are unlikely to benefit the former president’s return to power campaign.”
“The criticisms add to Trump’s reputation for having policy positions that shift for personal benefit and never for the greater public good,” he said.
Reed, a former campaign manager for Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and co-founder of South and Hill Strategies, said Trump’s recent attacks on DeSantis that have echoes of the left are “further evidence of Trump following his own political populist playbook, even when it strays from traditional conservative principles.”
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and former President Donald Trump. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images // Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Trump is not the only Republican in the GOP presidential field to attack DeSantis from the left. This week, Trump’s former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley appeared to side with Disney in its battle with DeSantis over its special district privileges by urging the company to move to South Carolina.
“Hey @Disney, my home state will happily accept your 70,000+ jobs if you want to leave Florida,” Haley tweeted. “We’ve got great weather, great people, and it’s always a great day in South Carolina!”
The tweet was quickly lambasted by many conservatives online.
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Fox News Digital reached out to both the Trump and Haley campaigns but did not immediately receive a response.
“The real DeSantis record is one of misery and despair,” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said when the “Real DeSantis Playbook” was released on Friday.
“He has left a wake of destruction all across Florida and people are hurting because he has spent more time playing public relations games instead of actually doing the hard-work needed to improve the lives of the people he represents.”
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New Fox News polling released Wednesday showed Trump maintaining his lead in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race, as support for DeSantis fell for the second month in a row.
The polling, gathered on the days following the release of the playbook, shows Trump leading with 53% support from Republican primary voters, followed by DeSantis at 21%, former Vice President Mike Pence at 6%, Nikki Haley at 4%, Vivek Ramaswamy at 3%, and Tim Scott and Liz Cheney at 2% each.
Greg Abbott, Chris Christie, Larry Elder, Chris Sununu and Glenn Youngkin garner 1% apiece. Asa Hutchinson, Kristi Noem and Francis Suarez get less than 1%.