Former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis seem destined to battle for the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Even though DeSantis has not yet announced his candidacy, there’s a new controversy between the two men seemingly every day. This timeline, which we plan to update frequently in the coming weeks and months, hopes to capture each twist and turn of their rivalry — which started out, as many great rivalries do, as a close partnership.
(Events are listed in reverse chronological order.)
May 10, 2023: The super PAC backing DeSantis, Never Back Down, upped its criticism of Trump, putting out a statement in response to a televised CNN Trump town hall.
“The CNN townhall was, as expected, over an hour of nonsense that proved Trump is stuck in the past,” the statement read.
April 28, 2023: Never Back Down took a not-so-low-key jab at Trump in a pro-DeSantis advertisement. Check out 54 seconds into this ad, when the guy slaps a “DeSantis for president” bumper sticker on top of his Trump 2016 sticker.
April 18, 2023: On social media, Trump criticized DeSantis’ handling of the raging controversy over Disney.
“DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” Trump wrote. His original P.R. plan fizzled, so now he’s going back with a new one in order to save face.”
April 14, 2023: Never Back Down took some shots at Trump in a set of ads posted to its YouTube channel.
In one ad, the pro-DeSantis group attacks Trump’s record on guns, bashing the former president for working with Democrats on the issue.
In another, Never Back Down questions why Trump has criticized DeSantis in the wake of his New York indictment.
“Trump’s stealing pages from the Biden-Pelosi playbook, repeating lies about Social Security,” a narrator says.
For his part, Trump re-upped his criticism of DeSantis for his past stances on social security and Medicare.
“RON DESANTIS WANTS TO RIP RETIREMENT BENEFITS AWAY FROM AMERICANS,” read an email blast from Trump sent two days after the Never Back Down ads aired.
April 12, 2023: After several key Florida congressional representatives endorsed Trump, DeSantis’ political team circled the wagons to prevent any further presidential endorsements, NBC News reported. DeSantis’ people called U.S. Reps. Aaron Bean, Vern Buchanan, Kat Cammack, Mario Diaz-Balart, Laurel Lee and Greg Steube.
April 10, 2023: Trump unleashed another set of broadsides against DeSantis. In one emailed release, he accused DeSantis of violating Florida’s “resign-to-run” law, likening DeSantis’ April swing through more than half a dozen states to a “taxpayer-funded campaign.”
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to campaign full-time for president, during the Florida legislative session, while collecting a salary and having the taxpayers pick up the costs for his travel and security,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in the release.
Also, in a post to his Truth Social website, Trump again bashed DeSantis for his past positions on Social Security and Medicare.
April 2, 2023: The Trump campaign promoted a post from a conservative blog about how Trump supporters held a protest outside a DeSantis book signing event in Long Island.
March 30, 2023: A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump in a case involving hush money Trump paid to a porn star during the 2016 campaign.
Some supporters of the former president used the indictment as an opportunity to draw a contrast between Trump and DeSantis, who said last week of the case against Trump: “I’ve got to spend my time on issues that actually matter to people.”
“When Republicans like Ron DeSantis say, ‘This isn’t a real issue.’ Just wait, Ron. One day you may be the man,” Donald Trump Jr. said on a podcast Thursday, according to NBC News. “The way you’ve handled the last couple of weeks, I actually hope not, unfortunately.”
For his part, DeSantis pledged after news of the indictment not to “assist” in any extradition of Trump to New York.
“Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” DeSantis said in a statement, referencing liberal mega-donor George Soros, who donated to a liberal group that supported the 2021 campaign of the district attorney involved in Trump’s indictment
March 29, 2023: In late March, the New York Times published a story about how DeSantis views crime as one of the vulnerabilities in Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign. (In February, DeSantis visited New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois, heaping speculation on his yet-to-be announced run for the presidency. The issue he raised in all of those visits? Crime.)
Seemingly in response to that story, a super PAC supporting Trump wrote a statement criticizing DeSantis’ record on crime.
“While President Trump is the only presidential candidate calling for the death penalty for drug dealers, DeSantis is giving a pass to thieves,” the super PAC wrote, citing DeSantis’ approval of a criminal justice measure in 2019 that raised the monetary threshold for felony theft.
March 23, 2023: DeSantis all but rules out sharing a ticket with Trump as a vice presidential pick, telling Newsmax that he’s “more of an executive guy.”
March 22, 2023: Trump sent another blistering emailed statement, savaging DeSantis for what he characterized as substandard leadership of the Sunshine State.
Trump called DeSantis a “lockdown governor” in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic and said DeSantis’ success in Florida “is all a mirage.”
There is evidence Trump’s attacks on DeSantis are working, with the governor’s polling numbers taking a bit of a hit in late March.
March 20, 2023: When Trump declared on social media that he was about to be arrested in New York in a case involving hush money payments to a porn star, he seized days of headlines.
When asked about whether he would extradite Trump to New York should he be arrested, DeSantis slammed the New York investigation, calling it a “manufactured circus” — and took a shot at Trump.
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis said.
In response, Trump allies seized on DeSantis’ comments.
“So DeSantis thinks that Dems weaponizing the law to indict President Trump is a ‘manufactured circus’ & isn’t a ‘real issue,’” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted. “Pure weakness.”
March 15, 2023: A pro-Trump Super PAC filed an ethics complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics alleging a series of violations by the state’s governor. Chief among them: Because DeSantis has not declared himself to be a candidate for president, the governor is improperly benefiting from campaign contributions and other political gifts, it alleged.
Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, called the letter “frivolous and politically motivated” in an emailed statement.
“It’s inappropriate to use state ethics complaints for partisan purposes,” Fenske wrote.
March 2, 2023: DeSantis started getting heat for his past position on reforming the popular entitlement programs Medicare and Social Security. So he addressed the controversy in a Fox News interview.
“We’re not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans,” he said. “I think that that’s pretty clear.”
The message came after Trump had attacked DeSantis as “the man who wants to cut Social Security and Medicare,” likening the governor to former U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.
Feb. 28, 2023: DeSantis releases his eagerly awaited book, The Courage To Be Free. Although he largely avoided criticizing Trump, he did criticize the initial federal response to the coronavirus pandemic — which Trump led.
Feb. 7, 2023: Trump posts a series of attacks on DeSantis on his Truth Social page, including re-sharing one salacious (and unfounded) allegation from another social media account that DeSantis sexually preyed upon students as a high school teacher in Georgia two decades ago.
The missives got a rare public response from DeSantis at a news conference the following day.
“I spend my time delivering results for the people of Florida and fighting against Joe Biden,” DeSantis said. “I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans.”
Feb. 5, 2023: The conservative mega donor Koch family said it will weigh in on the 2024 GOP presidential primary — a huge potential boon for a potential Trump alternative candidate, The New York Times reported. In an internal memo, the leader of Americans for Prosperity, a key part of the Koch network, said it wanted to turn “the page on the past.” Some of the Koch network donors expressed interest in DeSantis running, the Times reported.
Jan. 29, 2023: Trump criticized DeSantis for his pandemic response while on a campaign swing through key primary states.
“There are Republican governors that did not close their states,” he said. “Florida was closed for a long period of time.”
Jan. 27, 2023: Trump released a federal education plan with several planks mimicking proposals already enacted by DeSantis in Florida. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to interpret the rollout as a sign the former president was feeling vulnerable about the education issue when compared to DeSantis, who was fresh off a series of splashy education moves.
That plan followed reports of donors being reluctant to commit to Trump before vetting his challengers, potentially including DeSantis.
Nov. 16, 2022: DeSantis tried to quell the talk of his budding rivalry with the man who once gave him a key political boost. According to CNN, he told reporters in Lee County to “chill out a little bit” about Trump — then pivoted to comparing his winning 2022 election results with Republicans across the country.
Trump was blamed in part for Republicans’ poor performance nationally (though DeSantis’ out-of-state endorsements didn’t prevent some candidates from losing, either).
Nov. 15, 2022: Trump officially announced he would run for president in 2024 for a third time.
Nov. 10, 2022: Trump unleashes a blistering statement about DeSantis. If their war was ever cold, it became hot on this day.
“Ron DeSanctimonious is playing games! The Fake News asks him if he’s going to run if President Trump runs, and he says, ‘I’m only focused on the Governor’s race, I’m not looking into the future.’” Trump’s statement said. “Well, in terms of loyalty and class, that’s really not the right answer.”
When later asked about Trump’s criticism, DeSantis mostly skirted the question, but encouraged any haters to “go check out the scoreboard” from Election Day.
Nov. 8, 2022: DeSantis scored a landslide reelection victory unheard of in recent Florida history. Meanwhile, in one of Trump’s worst political moments, many of his endorsed candidates lost winnable races in key swing states.
Nov. 6, 2022: In a striking symbol of the simmering divide between Trump and DeSantis, the two men held dueling rallies on the same day in different parts of the Sunshine State just days before the 2022 elections.
Although neither man criticized the other at his rally, the discord was unmistakable.
Nov. 5, 2022: Trump calls DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
Nov. 1, 2022: In another personnel rift between DeSantis and Trump, the University of Florida Board of Trustees picked U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse to be the university’s next president. Although the decision to appoint Sasse was not DeSantis’ directly, the governor wields a great deal of control over the board.
Trump has frequently butted heads with Sasse, who at times criticized him. In 2022, Trump called Sasse “bad news” and said he regretted endorsing him in 2020.
“A BIG MISTAKE!” Trump posted on social media in response to DeSantis’ endorsement of
Joe O’Dea, who went on to lose by 15 points.
July 23, 2022: DeSantis and Trump both headlined simultaneous Republican events on opposite sides of the state. While neither of them were jabbing at each other publicly yet, it added fuel to the buzz surrounding their rivalry, and voters in the Republican base started thinking about which man they’d prefer.
Jan. 6, 2022: On the anniversary of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol at which Trump supporters tried to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election results, DeSantis downplayed the event.
“When they try to act like this is something akin to the Sept. 11 attacks, that is an insult to the people who were going into those buildings,” DeSantis said at a news conference in West Palm Beach.
It was an example of DeSantis remaining in lockstep with Trump about the idea that the riot, which saw dozens convicted — some of them for seditious conspiracy — were overblown.
But the Trump-DeSantis goodwill would not last through the new year.
Oct. 4, 2021: By the fall of President Joe Biden’s first year in office, it was clear DeSantis was a national political figure in his own right. Biden’s press secretary took shots at him from the White House press room podium, and the DeSantis administration fired back, at one point conducting a bill signing in the Tampa suburb of Brandon. (A cheeky reference to the “Let’s Go Brandon” chant that became code for insulting Biden.)
When a reporter asked Trump about the possibility of DeSantis running against him for the GOP nomination, Trump gave a bold prediction.
“If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else,” Trump said then. “I don’t think I will face him.”
April 29, 2021: Trump told a national television audience that he would “certainly” consider DeSantis to be his running mate should the former president seek his old office.
“A lot of people like that,” Trump told a Fox Business host. “You know, I’m just saying what I read and what you read. They love that ticket.”
Nov. 4, 2020: Although Trump lost other crucial battleground states like Georgia and Arizona in his failed reelection bid, he improved his showing in the Sunshine State compared to 2016.
DeSantis said he “worked hard” to ensure Trump’s victory in Florida. And he was again complimentary of the president.
“He deserves a lot of credit,” DeSantis said of Trump the day after the election. “The fact that he has really helped us with a lot of Florida issues I think helped him.”
Feb. 6, 2020: Trump told a roomful of supporters how important he was to DeSantis’ gubernatorial win in 2018: “He ran, I endorsed him, his numbers went through the roof.”
At the time, Trump was speaking favorably about DeSantis, whom he called “a great governor.” But it wouldn’t be the last time Trump would take credit for DeSantis’ political success.
Sept. 12, 2019: In the fall of 2019, the Tampa Bay Times obtained emails detailing a DeSantis fundraising plan that appeared to involve essentially selling access to the new governor to lobbyists and other power players. Publicly, DeSantis downplayed the emails, saying they did not affect his behavior.
Internally, the leak caused a major rift in DeSantisland. The governor fired a top political adviser, Susie Wiles, whom DeSantis blamed for the leaked emails. Then, reportedly at DeSantis’ urging, Trump fired Wiles from his 2020 presidential campaign, too.
But a few months later, in perhaps an early sign of trouble for Trump and DeSantis’ relationship, Trump brought Wiles back aboard his campaign in the summer of 2020.
Wiles has remained a key player in Trump’s circle ever since, despite DeSantis’ apparent mistrust of her. She’s a senior adviser on Trump’s 2024 campaign.
June 22, 2018: Over the summer, as DeSantis battled then-Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the Republican nomination for Florida governor, Trump chimed in with a game-changing official endorsement.
DeSantis went on to cruise to victory in the primary. (He even poked fun at his own loyalty to Trump in a campaign ad featuring his children and wife, Casey.) Then, he squeaked out a close victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum in the general election.
In his 2023 book, DeSantis didn’t credit Trump’s June tweet for his meteoric summer rise in the polls. Instead, he wrote that a June 28 debate performance against Putnam changed the race. Trump, though, clearly remembers it differently.
December 22, 2017: Trump was beating back accusations that his 2016 presidential campaign had been influenced by Russia, and one of his top allies in the fight was a 39-year-old U.S. representative from Florida, Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis routinely appeared on cable news programs that year to decry the various investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
As Trump was wont to do, he gave DeSantis a seemingly unprompted shoutout. Before DeSantis even announced his candidacy for Florida governor, the president offered his support.
“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida,” Trump tweeted. “He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”
DeSantis later wrote in his book that he asked for the tweet.
The rest, as they say, is history.