Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday countered former President Donald Trump’s assertion he has been “disloyal” and touted his recent landslide re-election victory in Florida.
The insinuation was clear: I won, you lost.
Mr. DeSantis said he has grown accustomed to taking arrows from all angles and said he takes solace in knowing voters have his back.
“The good thing about it is when you are an elected executive you have to make all kinds of decisions, you got to steer that ship, and the good thing is the people are able to render a judgment on that — whether they reelect you or not,” Mr. DeSantis said. “And I am 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.”
He added, “That verdict has been rendered by the people of the state of Florida.”
Mr. DeSantis is expected to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, a move that would set up a highly anticipated showdown with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has taken credit for Mr. DeSantis’ rise. The former president endorsed Mr. DeSantis’ 2018 bid for governor and has since made it clear he’s not pleased with the prospect of the Florida governor vying for the GOP presidential nomination next year.
“If he runs, that’s fine. I’m way up in the polls. He’s going to have to do what he wants to do, but he may run,” Mr. Trump said over the weekend after making his first campaign stops of the year in New Hampshire and South Carolina. “I do think it would be a great act of disloyalty because, you know, I got him in. He had no chance. His political life was over.”
Mr. Trump remains the center of gravity in the Republican Party, especially since most of his endorsed candidates won last November. But his loss in the 2020 election and support of failed candidates in high-profile races in the midterms has raised questions about his future role in the party.
Taken together, it has renewed speculation the party could be better off having a fresh face leading the ticket in 2024.
The dynamic has put a lot of focus on the likes of Mr. DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration.
“Donald Trump has shown a track record since 2016 of doing nothing but losing politically,” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, another possible 2024 contender, said Tuesday on the Hugh Hewitt podcast.
The struggles of some Trump-endorsed candidates in the midterms contrasted with the success of Mr. DeSantis and the Republicans in Florida.
Mr. DeSantis won re-election by more than 19 points. He led a GOP ticket that scored gains in the state legislature, gaining supermajorities in both chambers, and won four seats in Congress that were tied to GOP-friendlier congressional maps that Mr. DeSantis helped push through.
Polls suggest the appetite for a Trump alternative has been growing, including in the early primary states that powered the 45th president to victory in the 2016 GOP nomination race.
The University of New Hampshire released a survey of likely GOP primary voters before Mr. Trump’s visit there Saturday that showed him trailing Mr. DeSantis by a 42% to 30% margin.
Ms. Haley placed third, 8%, followed by a three-way tie among Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and former Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who each registered at 4%.
The poll showed support for Mr. DeSantis has been steady since the summer, while support for Mr. Trump has plummeted 17 points since July 2021.
The percentage of people who want Mr. Trump to run for president also has dipped 15% over that time, with half of the respondents saying he should stay on the sidelines.
Mr. Trump, for the moment, is the only declared candidate in the Republican primary race and is seeking to scare away potential rivals.
On Saturday he unveiled a leadership team in South Carolina comprised of the state’s biggest political players, including Gov. Henry McMaster, Sen. Lindsey Graham and three members of the state’s congressional delegation.