FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump are inching closer to a public war of words, as Trump has started ramping up his attacks on the governor in the aftermath of the midterm elections.
Just days after DeSantis was elected to serve as governor for a second term — with his landslide victory one of the few bright spots for Republicans in an otherwise disappointing midterm across the country — Trump released a full-page statement slamming DeSantis, calling him "ungrateful" and an "average governor."
One week after the election, DeSantis is finally firing back.
On Tuesday, during an appearance in Fort Walton Beach, DeSantis took questions from reporters about Trump's recent attacks, which the governor dismissed as "just noise."
"One of the things I've learned in this job: When you're leading and getting things done, you take incoming fire. That's just the nature of it," DeSantis said, without mentioning Trump by name. "What you learn is — all that's just noise. What matters is: Are you leading and getting in front of issues? Are you delivering results for people and standing up for folks? If you do that, none of that stuff matters. That's what we've done. We're focused on results and leadership."
He touted Republicans' success in the midterms in Florida, which differed greatly compared to the results from the rest of the country.
"The fact of the matter is, it was the greatest Republican victory in the history of the state of Florida," DeSantis told reporters. "At the end of the day, I'd tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night."
One thing DeSantis said that set Florida apart from other races around the country was what he believed was a wider appeal to voters beyond just Republicans.
"What Florida showed is that good policies and good leadership can reverberate just beyond your little silo of people that agree with you on everything," the governor explained. "We had people coming to vote for us who may not have voted for Republicans in the past, and I think that ultimately is the way forward."
Meanwhile, Trump is preparing to launch his third campaign for the White House on Tuesday, looking to move on from disappointing midterm defeats and defy history amid signs that his grip on the Republican Party is waning.
Trump had hoped to use the GOP's expected gains in last week's elections as a springboard to vault himself to his party's nomination. Instead, he finds himself being blamed for backing a series of losing candidates after Republicans failed to take control of the Senate. While the party was on the cusp of retaking control of the House on Tuesday, it could end up with its narrowest majority in decades.
He is expected to make an announcement at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. However, aides and allies had urged Trump to wait until after the midterms were over — and then until after a Dec. 6 Senate runoff election in Georgia — to announce his plans.
But Trump, eager to return to the spotlight, is also hoping to stave off a long list of potential challengers, including DeSantis, who is now being urged by many in his party to run for president as well.
Eyeing the Florida governor as his most formidable foe within the Republican Party, the former president has sought to keep DeSantis in his place, often noting the role his endorsement played in lifting the relatively obscure congressman to the leader of one of America's largest states.
DeSantis, for his part, has long praised Trump and mimicked his style, but has notably declined to put aside his own White House ambitions as the former president prepares to seek his old job again. In a clear sign of tension, the two held dueling Florida rallies in the final days of this year's midterm elections. At his event, Trump unveiled his new derisive nickname for DeSantis, calling him Ron DeSanctimonious.
The simmering rivalry between the Republican Party's biggest stars enters a new, more volatile phase after the GOP's underwhelming performance in what was supposed to be a blockbuster election year. DeSantis, who won a commanding reelection, is increasingly viewed as the party's future, while Trump, whose preferred candidates lost races from Pennsylvania to Arizona, is widely blamed as a drag on the party.
In Utah on Monday, 86 Republican lawmakers sent out a news release urging DeSantis to run, reflecting dissatisfaction with having Trump as their party’s standard-bearer. The state’s Mormon majority has long been skeptical of Trump’s isolationism and foul language.
And in Michigan, Paul Cordes, chief of staff of the Michigan Republican Party, penned a four-page internal memo that criticized Trump-backed candidates for "statewide sweeps" that will give Democrats full control of the state's government for the first time in 40 years. That includes Tudor Dixon, who lost the governor’s race to Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer by double digits.
Trump, Cordes wrote, was "popular amongst our grassroots and a motivating factor for his supporters, but provided challenges on a statewide ballot, especially with independents and women in the midterm election."
Rep. Liz Cheney, another Trump critic who is considering her own run in 2024, highlighted losses by Trump-backed candidates while speaking Tuesday morning at The Washington Post’s Global Women’s Summit.
"This is certainly not the rollout I’m sure Donald Trump wanted for his announcement tonight. But it’s also not the first time he’s been totally detached from reality," Cheney said. "There’s no question he’s unfit for office. And I feel confident he will never be president again."
Meanwhile, Josh Holmes, a Republican consultant close to McConnell, said Trump remains "far and away the favorite" as he enters the race. But Holmes also said that a third presidential bid will be considerably different for Trump.
"There’s never once been a primary victory by a presidential nominee that is waged in a backward-looking fashion. Everything is about the future," Holmes said.
As for DeSantis, Holmes said: "His national profile right now is undeniable. ... We’re going to find out" whether he can maintain that strength.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.