Trump, DeSantis Battle Turns Into a COVID War

The escalated war of words between Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has now included each individual gloating of how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, Trump touted his administration's Operation Warp Speed program that he claims potentially saved 100 million lives, in the process saying DeSantis shut down Florida for "a period of time" when other Republican-led states did otherwise.

Some former staunch Trump supporters have recently cast the former president as a "sellout" due to his recent statements about vaccines.

The Florida governor on Tuesday seemed to take a jab at Trump due to his loss to now-President Joe Biden while DeSantis coasted to another term in resounding fashion.

"If you take a crisis situation like COVID, the good thing about it is when you're an elected executive you have to make all kinds of decisions–you gotta steer the ship," DeSantis told reporters, according to a video tweeted by The Recount. "The good thing is that the people are able to render a judgment on that, whether they re-elect you or not.

"I'm happy to say in my case, not only did we win reelection, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has in the history of the state of Florida."

His win over Democrat Charlie Crist presented the largest margin of victory in the state in 40 years.

"That verdict has been rendered by the people of the state of Florida," DeSantis said Tuesday.

Trump DeSantis GOP Republicans 2024 Election COVID
Former U.S. President Donald Trump, left, addresses the crowd during a 2024 election campaign event in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 28, 2023. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to guests at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting on November 19, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Trump has ramped up his barbs towards DeSantis, who is widely viewed as potentially Trump's biggest 2024 GOP challenger should he jump into the race. LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images; Scott Olson/Getty Images

Trump's verbal assault on DeSantis has coincided with the first two kickoff events of his 2024 presidential campaign in South Carolina and New Hampshire.

It was while en route to South Carolina when Trump called out DeSantis for how he handled the coronavirus in its infancy, saying DeSantis "changed his tune a lot" regarding the virus and the efficacy of vaccines.

"Florida was actually closed, for a great, long period of time," Trump said in footage aired by CNN. "Remember, he [DeSantis] closed the beaches and everything else? They're trying to rewrite history."

DeSantis verbally assaulted the CDC in December while announcing a statewide investigation into "wrongdoing" linked with mRNA shots—saying that one must assume that anything the CDC puts out is "not worth the paper it's printed on."

Video quickly resurfaced of DeSantis from May 2021, in which he told Floridians that "vaccines protect you."

Republicans "unsure" how to handle Trump-DeSantis matchup

Adam Cayton, a government professor at the University of West Florida, told Newsweek that the hypothetical GOP primary matchup of Trump vs. DeSantis can be summed up in one word: suspense.

"I think the problem for both of their campaigns, and let's just assume DeSantis is interested in running for president, is that the Republican primary electorate is unsure what to do...Neither of the candidates have been overtly at odds with each other; they've never directly competed against one another," Cayton said.

He added, "DeSantis is very popular in Florida, he even has a 30-40 percent approval rating among Democrats. He's a widely recognized name and not flying under the radar, like a lot of governors do."

Asked if invoking COVID in recent attacks is a campaign strategy, Cayton said, "everything is a campaign strategy at some level."

Trump is attacking DeSantis' strengths, he said, notably the reputation that DeSantis has garnered—right or wrong based on who you ask—that he handled the pandemic well.

"Trump is trying to rewrite that narrative and convince Republican primary voters that this thing you think DeSantis did very well isn't true," Cayton said.

While Trump's profile is again increasing with his visibility, his odds at least according to one sportsbook have soured.

Betfair spokesperson Sam Rosbottom told Newsweek that while Trump remains the GOP favorite to be the party's nominee come 2024, it is DeSantis who possesses the better odds to actually defeat a Democrat.

A poll by the University of New Hampshire released last Thursday showed that 42 percent of likely GOP primary voters chose DeSantis as their first choice for the GOP 2024 nomination, while Trump earned 30 percent of support. The findings were based on Granite State Poll.