Donald Trump's Old 'Grudge' Helped Propel Ron DeSantis to GOP Stardom: Lev Parnas

Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas has said that former President Donald Trump's boosted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' political career because of a "grudge" against former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Parnas, a former associate of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, told progressive activists Scott Dworkin and Grant Stern in an interview that he had met DeSantis in the lobby of a Trump hotel in 2018 before the Republican was elected governor.

DeSantis has emerged as a potential rival to Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination and both sides have downplayed recent suggestions of animosity between them.

The interview with Parnas took place on August 5, 2021 but the podcast was not released until February 1, 2022.

On October 22, 2021, Parnas was found guilty of charges that he had made illegal campaign contributions in an effort to influence U.S. politicians and to advance his business interests.

Parnas, who is a Florida-based businessman, said during the podcast that he "took a liking" to DeSantis and explained that at the time he supported Adam Putnam, the state agriculture commissioner who was seeking the Republican nomination to run for governor of Florida. He said it was difficult for him to make a "transition" to supporting DeSantis.

"Ron made a very aggressive case," Parnas said. "He approached me almost every day, stood behind me and he was told that I'm very close with the president and also close with Rudy Giuliani through the America First Super PAC."

"So they told him that I would be a good person to know, and he tried to get to know me and that worked out for him because at that time, there in the president's [circle...] telling him that Putnam was the guy to go," Parnas went on.

Parnas said that Trump "had his reserves against Putnam because when he was running for president [he] said something derogatory of him and the former guy doesn't like that and kept the grudge and was really against him."

"And Ron at the time was, the loudest on Fox, you know, he was the main guy on Fox at the time," Parnas went on.

"So, it was easy. And I relayed a message from Ron to Rudy and Rudy went to the White House and told the former guy that Ron would be a good guy to run for Florida," he said. "And that's when they had their meeting and he finally jumped on the bandwagon and that's when Trump came out."

At the time, DeSantis was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Florida's 6th district and was behind Putnam in the polls in the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Trump endorsed DeSantis at a rally in Tampa Bay, Florida, on July 31, 2018, and he went on to win the nomination and the gubernatorial election.

"And that—that rally for him, which flipped Ron. Because if you remember when he just announced, he was way behind Putnam," Parnas said.

"And then when Trump threw his support behind them, after that whole thing transpired that nobody really knows. You're the first to hear about it," he told the podcast hosts. "And that's how Governor DeSantis and President Trump became close."

Parnas agreed with the suggestion that he had played "matchmaker" between Trump and DeSantis.

Newsweek has asked Trump's and DeSantis' offices for comment.

Trump, who is now resident in Florida, remains the most popular choice for the GOP nomination in 2024 according to a slew of polls but there are indications that DeSantis could prove a viable alternative.

A Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll released on Tuesday shows Trump defeating DeSantis in a hypothetical Florida Republican primary by 47 percent to 40 percent. The survey polled 176 likely 2024 Republican primary voters for president on the question of Trump versus DeSantis and that question had a margin of error of +/-7.4.

The Associated Press spoke to people attending Trump's rally in Conroe, Texas on Saturday and found some support for a potential DeSantis run for the White House.

Kathy Miguez, who lives in Dayton, Texas, told the AP: "I've been hearing about that DeSantis guy. He would be a good next one to run."

"From what I hear, he's a lot like Trump," Miguez said.

Thor Pearson from El Paso, Texas said he believed Trump could be "paving a way" for DeSantis to run in 2028.

"And I would be absolutely happy because DeSantis is a great Republican. I think he's doing everything right," Pearson said.

However, some of those the AP talked to were all-in for the former president.

"DeSantis is never gonna pull a crowd like this. He's just never gonna do it," said Janice Shelton of Austin, Texas. She said she was "praying" Trump would run again.

DeSantis and Trump are likely to remain the most talked about contenders for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination but it remains to be seen if the Florida governor can pull ahead of the former president.

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis onstage
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and then-President Donald Trump (L) on the environment at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum in Florida on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. DeSantis is increasingly seen as a potential challenger to Trump in any potential GOP primary ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Businessman Lev Parnas has claimed he played a key role in bringing the men together. AP Photo/Getty Images/Joe Raedle