Honestly, I don’t see why it would be disrespectful to hold a political rally 200 miles away from a terrible tragedy nine days after it happened. Granted, Trump’s going to lob bombs at Democrats at a moment when Florida is “unified,” but life goes on. And he’s reportedly planning to ask for donations to the families of Surfside victims at the rally.
Still, this story is interesting because tensions between Trump and DeSantis are inevitable as 2024 approaches. The Examiner even goes so far as to say the two sides are “feuding” over the rally, although that’s probably an exaggeration. Allies of both men denied it to Politico. It probably is true, though, that DeSantis is unhappy that the rally is happening when it is. It leaves him in a no-win situation of having to choose between staying in Surfside to preside over the recovery efforts at the Champlain Towers and snubbing Trump’s rally or attending the rally and being accused of shirking his duties as governor at Surfside.
DeSantis’s office told Politico that he’ll remain at the recovery site on Saturday, which is the smart move. But he sure would like to see the rally moved so that he can show up there and get some face time with the MAGA faithful, just in case Trump doesn’t run in 2024 after all.
DeSantis’s office has “made a direct plea” to the former president’s team, calling on it to postpone the Saturday event in Sarasota. One Florida Republican bluntly said Trump and his team need to “read the room.”
“The governor is getting tested here as to how far he’s going to be pushed before he breaks ranks with President Trump. And he has to be very careful because this is Trump country,” this source said. “The base loves the president. But they equally love Ron. It’s a showdown going on right now.”…
[One operative] added: “We can walk and chew gum at the same time. But right now, there’s a Kumbaya moment. People need this. We need everybody to come together, we need to see that to start healing this country. And we saw a little bit of that today for the first time in five years. Today was the first day that people were like, ‘Maybe there’s hope that our country can come back together again.’ Only for, on Saturday, the former president tearing the Band-Aid off: He’s gonna go for the jugular.”
There’s no feud (yet) between Trump and DeSantis but, as the Examiner notes, there is a feud between DeSantis and Susie Wiles, his former campaign manager who now leads Trump’s political operations. DeSantis suspected her of leaking when she worked for him, causing their relationship to rupture. Last year things got bitter enough that DeSantis reportedly asked donors not to give to the Republican National Convention because Wiles was helping with the convention planning. The sniping at Trump’s team for going ahead with the rally may have less to do with targeting Trump than with targeting her.
Which of course may help explain why Team Trump wants to go ahead with it. Wiles may relish this opportunity to stick it to DeSantis by holding a Trump rally in Florida at a rare moment when he can’t attend due to gubernatorial duties.
That’s only half the political awkwardness brewing for DeSantis this week, though. Tomorrow Biden will arrive in Surfside for a visit and Team Ron will need to figure out how warmly the governor should receive him. Chris Christie may have never fully recovered politically on the right for greeting Obama during his visit to New Jersey shortly before the 2012 election to survey the damage from Hurricane Sandy. DeSantis obviously doesn’t want any chummy photo ops with Biden, whom many of his would-be primary supporters in 2024 believe isn’t even the duly elected president. On the other hand, if “unity” is the name of the game in Florida in the wake of the Surfside horror, DeSantis can’t snub Biden either. This is an opportunity for him to show the more centrist part of the Republican base that he can be less petty a partisan than Trump when the moment calls for it.
Although the scope and scale of the two disasters are utterly different — Sandy killed fewer people than died in Surfside, but the storm caused wider devastation necessitating much more federal aid — the partisan political considerations are similar: Should DeSantis appear with Biden? Should they shake hands or even hug? If either man uses the occasion to make a political argument, how should the other respond?…
“The likeliest scenario is the president, the governor, the head of FEMA and the mayor examining the site together or meeting with first responders on scene,” said one source familiar with the discussions between Tallahassee and Washington who was granted anonymity to speak freely.
Biden doesn’t want to be too chummy with or admiring of DeSantis either, of course. It’s possible that they’ll face each other in 2024.
Maybe Trump likes the idea of not having DeSantis at his rally. The new guy would doubtless get a big ovation, which would feed Trump’s insecurity about being supplanted at the top of the GOP. The Daily Beast reported a few days ago that “Trump has repeatedly inquired this month about his standing in the polls of potential 2024 Republican contenders” and that DeSantis’s standing in particular has been “of keen interest to Trump, particularly in the past few months, as the former president has watched from afar to see who could emerge as a formidable competitor.” I don’t know why he feels obliged to ask aides how DeSantis is doing, though. All he needs to do is pay attention to who his own kids are touting for president in 2024 to recognize the threat.
Exit quotation from a Republican advisor who’s close to DeSantis, commenting on how the governor is trying to maneuver towards 2024: “He will take measures so that Trump won’t get mad at him, but believe me, the more successful you are, with Trump, sometimes makes it worse… It’s a weird spot to be in for sure.”