The Republican Civil War Starts Now

Following the GOP's poor showing in the midterms, the future of the party looks set to be decided on who will come out on top in the reignited rivalry between Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

As control of the House or the Senate is still up in the air, November 8's midterms have supplied wildly contrasting narratives for the Republican Party's two heavyweights.

On one side, with his Make America Great Again agenda, there is the former president, who has been expected to formally announce in the coming days his intentions to run again in 2024.

A once powerful force in the Republican Party, Trump's reputation has been severely damaged, especially within the GOP, after a number of his 2020 election-denier candidates failed to carry the party on a "red wave" and, for now, make major gains in the House or convincingly retake control of the Senate.

On the other side, there is DeSantis, who cruised to victory in his home state on November 8 after shaping his own brand of firebrand politics by constantly stoking the culture wars and battling against "woke" ideology.

"It's hard to imagine the elections going much better for Ron DeSantis, or much worse for Trump," Sean Freeder, an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Florida, told Newsweek.

From Allies to Rivals

Donald Trump faces GOP civil war
Donald Trump is facing growing Republican dissent over disappointing midterms for the GOP. Getty/Newsweek

DeSantis and Trump have long been thought to be the two frontrunners who will face off in the GOP primary for the presidential nomination in 2024. This has caused a rift in the pair's relationship, with Trump turning on his once close ally.

Back in July 2018, then President Trump was all praise for DeSantis and endorsed him for Florida governor. At the time, the latter was behind in polls against the state's agriculture commissioner, Adam Putnam.

"Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida," Trump had tweeted. "Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes—Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!"

DeSantis went on to win the governor's race, for which Trump has often taken credit.

But the times and stakes have now changed. In January 2022, Trump appeared to criticize DeSantis and other "gutless" politicians who would not confirm nor deny whether they had received a COVID vaccine booster.

Trump has since frequently dismissed the Florida governor's chances of beating him in a hypothetical GOP primary, and he didn't include DeSantis among his 250-plus endorsements in this year's midterm races.

The attacks continued all the way up to the eve of the midterm vote, when Trump said it would be a "mistake" if DeSantis ran against him in 2024.

"I think the base would not like it. I don't think it would be good for the party," Trump told Fox News.

Even before the midterm results, there was speculation that a number of key GOP donors were looking for DeSantis to lead the party over Trump, seemingly weary of the constant media circus surrounding the former president, and the ongoing criminal and civil investigations into his actions.

'Toxic Trump'?

The calls for DeSantis to be the new de facto leader of the GOP have only increased following the midterm results.

On Wednesday, The New York Post, which Trump once called his "favorite newspaper," featured DeSantis on its front page after the Florida governor's election win, along with the headline "DeFuture."

The following day, The Post also published a scathing editorial attacking the influence of "Toxic Trump," describing him as perhaps the most "profound vote-repellent in modern American history."

Anti-Trump rhetoric also came from within the GOP. Georgia's Republican lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan told CNN that the midterm results showed that Trump was now "in the rearview mirror" of GOP.

"I think it sends a message to the country along with some other states that this is truly a pivot point for the Republican Party," Duncan said.

Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist, said the next two years will see Trump continuing to "go after" DeSantis as the former president attempts to fight off suggestions his reign of power at the top of the GOP is over.

"It's going to be Trump trying to do everything you can to destroy DeSantis, and DeSantis laughing while Trump deals with the legal problems he's going to face," Sheinkopf told Newsweek.

The premonition appears to have already come to fruition, with Trump once again suggesting he is still more popular than DeSantis even after the midterms.

"Now that the Election in Florida is over, and everything went quite well, shouldn't it be said that in 2020, I got 1.1 Million more votes in Florida than Ron D got this year, 5.7 Million to 4.6 Million? Just asking?" Trump posted on Truth Social on November 9.

While Trump rounded up the figures slightly, he did outperform DeSantis in Florida in that respect. In the last presidential election, Trump received 5,668,731 votes in the Sunshine State, while the Florida governor won 4,609,110 votes with over 95 percent of the ballots counted in the 2022 midterms. However, DeSantis won by a wider margin—over 19 percentage points—than Trump did in 2020—less than 5 points.

DeSantis has yet to fully return fire in the fight for the GOP leadership and has given no real indication that he will announce a run for the presidency in 2024.

The Florida governor reportedly did not seek the Trump endorsement during his reelection campaign. But he has refrained from criticizing the former president publicly or on social media.

Fresh New Option

Ron DeSantis Accused of 'Blasphemy'
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis looks on before the start of a game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators at TIAA Bank Field on October 29, in Jacksonville, Florida. Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Whether that will change in the next two years—with the boisterous DeSantis known for attacking and criticizing his political foes—remains to be seen.

Sheinkopf added that Trump was the "biggest loser" in the midterms due to a significant number of his endorsed candidates being defeated in their races, ultimately resulting in the GOP's poor performance.

In comparison, DeSantis helped turn Florida from a swing state into a "fully Republican" state during his time as governor, presiding over the Democrats getting "absolutely routed" in statewide elections, as well as some congressional races in the midterms.

Discussing why the GOP will also consider DeSantis the future of the party, Sheinkopf told Newsweek: "He comes from a southern state, which is really important in putting a Republican coalition together to get the nomination of his party.

"DeSantis's defeat of Charlie Crist was expected, but doing so by 20 points, and carrying Miami-Dade, was shocking," added assistant professor of political science Sean Freeder. "It's a result that completely solidifies Florida's status as a fully red state—Democrats cannot expect to reliably win offices in this state."

While DeSantis managed his own red wave in Florida, Trump failed to do so across the country, with a number of high-profile losses, such as Dr. Mehmet Oz to Democrat John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, ultimately damaging the party's foreseeable future.

Two days after the midterm polls closed, the GOP has not secured an overall majority in the House as had been expected.

There is also the likelihood that the Democrats could keep control of the Senate, with a Georgia run-off in December between Raphael Warnock and the Trump-endorsed Herschel Walker looking set to decide who will take the upper chamber.

"Trump is increasingly looking like a liability for them in 2024, and DeSantis is someone who can raise money, win independents, and take the White House," Freeder told Newsweek, adding Trump will surely face a much tougher battle for the GOP nomination that he did in 2016.

"In 2016, he leveraged his status as a fresh new option for the party. In 2024, he's old baggage, and DeSantis is the fresh new option—someone who possesses many of Trump's advantages, and far fewer liabilities."