Opinion: DeSantis climbs into the ring with Trump

Of all the Republicans in the 2024 race for the White House, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida may be the only GOP candidate who has a legitimate chance to knock off former President Donald Trump.

You can tell that’s true because of how much time Trump has spent targeting DeSantis – often referring to him derisively as ‘Ron DeSanctimonious.’

“I’m blowing away DeSanctimonious in the polls,” Trump trumpeted this week, bluntly declaring that “Ron is unelectable.”

Even before DeSantis officially joined the race, Trump went on the attack, hitting the Florida Republican from both the left and right.

One recent Trump ad went back to when DeSantis was in Congress to attack his support for the FairTax — a plan from Georgia Republicans which is designed to replace federal income taxes with a national sales tax.

“90 percent of families would get a tax hike if DeSantis replaced the current system,” the Trump ad intoned, echoing FairTax attacks launched by President Biden and Democrats.

Whether you like Trump or not, his ability to communicate and launch very pointed campaign attacks remains unparalleled in today’s political arena. Does DeSantis have the discipline and the natural instincts to deal with that?

So far, the signs from DeSantis and his team have been mixed at best.

On Capitol Hill, Trump enjoys much more support than DeSantis when it comes to Congressional endorsements. This week, U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, R-Suwanee, became the first Georgia Republican in Congress to back the Florida Governor.

“Ron DeSantis is battle tested and ready to be our next President,” McCormick said.

While Trump is the clear leader in the GOP race, DeSantis certainly doesn’t have Trump’s legal baggage, as the former President could well be indicted in Fulton County’s investigation of his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

Trump also could be in legal jeopardy with the feds over classified documents that he kept after leaving office. And he faces a trial in New York for falsifying business records, which has been scheduled for March 2024 – right in the midst of the GOP primaries.

“Very unfair,” Trump wrote on his fake Twitter site. “It’s called ELECTION INTERFERENCE.”

The road ahead could get messy as DeSantis and Trump take aim at each other, and the prospect of that GOP clash has irked some Republicans.

“He needs to stop listening to the consultants and come to his senses,” U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, said of DeSantis.

“America wants President Trump back in the White House,” Greene said.

Trump is definitely the favorite. DeSantis and a host of other GOP candidates now have about seven months to change that.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com