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Key Words: Trump lashes out at potential rival DeSantis, questioning his loyalty

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Perhaps foreshadowing a bitter Republican presidential primary battle, Donald Trump lashed out at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, calling him an “average” governor whose political success is owed all to Trump.

In a statement, the former president said DeSantis came to him “in desperate shape” in 2017, and “politically dead.” At the time, DeSantis was a U.S. senator running for Florida governor, but trailing Republican frontrunner Adam Putnam in the GOP primary.

“Ron had low approval, bad polls, and no money, but he said that if I would endorse him, he could win. I didn’t know Adam so I said, ‘Let’s give it a shot, Ron.’”

““When I endorsed him, it was as though, to use a bad term, a nuclear weapon went off.””

— Donald Trump, on endorsing DeSantis in 2017

“I also fixed his campaign, which had completely fallen apart,” Trump said in the statement, taking credit for DeSantis’ subsequent rise in the polls and eventual election victory, and falsely claimed he “stopped his election from being stolen.”

“And now, Ron DeSanctimonious is playing games!” Trump continued, using his new nickname for the governor. “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.’ Well, in terms of loyalty and class, that’s really not the right answer.”

Trump and DeSantis have traded barbs before, but Trump’s latest statement could be a sign of a rivalry that’s becoming more pointed. On Tuesday, Trump threatened he’d reveal unflattering information on DeSantis if he ran against him.

Read more: Trump vs. DeSantis: Midterm election results shake up the Republican 2024 field

DeSantis won reelection for a second term Tuesday, with a decisive 20-percentage-point victory over Democrat Charlie Crist. While DeSantis has been coy with his 2024 presidential ambitions, many strategists believe he could be a stronger national candidate than Trump.

A number of prominent Trump-backed candidates lost Tuesday, leading to recriminations. On Thursday, former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said “Trump’s kind of a drag on our ticket.”

“What you saw last night was the future of the Republican Party begin to emerge — which is competent populism as the alternative to Trump,” Strategas analyst Daniel Clifton said in a Barron’s Live interview Wednesday.

Trump also derided News Corp.
NWS,
+6.20%

— specifically the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, which have criticized Trump in recent days — for being “all in” on DeSantis. Trump included Fox in that characterization, but Fox — including Fox News — is actually a unit of a separate company, Fox Corp.
FOX,
+3.90%
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though both are controlled by Rupert Murdoch. (MarketWatch is also a unit of News Corp.)

Trump has teased a “big announcement” coming Nov. 15, when he’s expected to announce another presidential run. Some Republicans, though, are saying Trump should delay his announcement until after the Dec. 6 Georgia Senate primary, so as not to serve as a distraction.

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