How Ron DeSantis Feud With Donald Trump Could Benefit Florida Governor

Former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are currently the leading contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination and recent reports of a "feud" between them have been the focus of intense speculation.

Both sides have denied there is any animosity between the men and pointed the finger at the media. However, Trump and DeSantis seemed to be swiping at each other in recent comments about COVID-19 and a slew of media reports have claimed ongoing tensions between them, sometimes citing anonymous sources.

Political experts who spoke to Newsweek suggested that the feud could in fact benefit DeSantis and allow him to differentiate himself from Trump, though any conflict could also damage the GOP.

Bending the Knee

Mark Shanahan is an associate professor at the Department of Politics and International Relations at Reading University in the U.K. and co-editor of The Trump Presidency: From Campaign Trail to World Stage. He told Newsweek DeSantis would gain little from deferring to Trump.

"A Trump/DeSantis 'feud' may not be a bad move for either potential candidate for the GOP nomination to run for the presidency in 2024—it keeps them both high in the news agenda, and deflects from the on-going negativity of the impact of the investigation into the January 6 insurrection," Shanahan said.

He said that if Trump doesn't run himself, the former president will want the Republican candidate to be his "anointed successor."

"That works only if all his rivals act as acolytes and pledge not to run against him. It feels more like a mob succession than a grown-up political party," he said.

"DeSantis, of course, refuses to play that role, and his current independence may serve him well," Shanahan went on. "Bending the knee to Trump hasn't done much for the careers of Ted Cruz or the likes of Marco Rubio—they simply come across as lightweights in comparison to the Don."

Shanahan told Newsweek that DeSantis has established his conservative credentials "with his status as a veteran, education at Yale and Harvard, sporting prowess and stable family life."

"He offers GOP voters a credible alternative to Trump," he said.

Full-On War

Shanahan said Trump "reacts poorly to any perceived challenge, and as ever, his defense plays out through attacks on his rivals—and he clearly has DeSantis in his sights."

He said Trump's weakness is that he can't get past the 2020 election.

"If DeSantis can establish clear water between himself and Trump on this issue, he may well solidify his platform for 2024. If that's the case, the feud will likely turn into a full-on war," he said.

David A. Bateman, an associate professor of government at Cornell University, told Newsweek that the path to the 2024 GOP nomination runs through or perhaps around Trump.

"At some point anyone who wants to be president is going to have to get Trump's blessing or, more likely, bypass him," Bateman said.

"Aspiring party leaders always have a tricky balance to distance themselves a bit from the previous incumbent while not breaking with them completely. Trump's ego and refusal to concede his being a loser—twice if you count votes—makes it more complicated than usual, but not much out of the norm," he added.

David and Goliath

Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on US Politics, told Newsweek that DeSantis was indicative of the fact that many in the Republican Party have moved to the right of Trump.

"It's hard to imagine Trump not receiving the GOP nomination in 2024 if he throws his hat in the ring," Gift said. "The fact remains: Trump is still Trump, and compared to that, Ron DeSantis is 'just another' governor. Any attempt to spin this into a budding rivalry in 2024 is pitting Goliath against David."

"But the feud between DeSantis and Trump does signal what could be an increasing trend within the Republican Party: would-be presidential hopefuls tacking even further to the right of Trump on the off chance he doesn't run," Gift went on.

He noted the pushback Trump has recently received among some members of his base, particularly due to his outspoken support for COVID-19 vaccinations.

"That hasn't gone unnoticed by Republicans like DeSantis who think any signal of moderation on COVID-19 doesn't do them any political favors," he said.

"To an extent, this could even be part of a broader pattern, with many Republican politicians realizing that much of the GOP base is actually now to the right of Trump on plenty of issues," Gift said.

Taking the Party Down With Him

Paul Quirk, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, told Newsweek that the apparent feud between Trump and DeSantis was "a fine mess" that could seriously damage the Republican Party.

"If Trump seeks the party nomination, he will win it," Quirk said. "If he wins the nomination, he will probably lose the general election, perhaps disastrously, and take the rest of the party down with him."

"If he is going to end up not running, he wants to delay the announcement as long as possible," Quirk said.

"In these circumstances, a serious challenge for the nomination could encourage Trump's early departure, with great benefits for the party. But such a challenger would be fatally damaged in the process," he said.

Quirk said Trump may not decide to announce a presidential run until the Republican convention. He also doubted DeSantis could oppose Trump for long.

"DeSantis will figure out pretty soon that he can't run for president as Trump 2.0 if he's publicly brawling with Trump 1.0. As so many other Republicans have done, he will jump back in formation as a loyal supporter," Quirk said.

Composite Image Shows DeSantis and Trump
A composite photo shows Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (L) and former President Donald Trump (R). Both men are considered viable candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Getty Images