Florida’s Republican Gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis is caught between a rock and a hard place.
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As a modern Republican, he’s expected to support whatever moronic utterance that spews forth from President Trump’s delusional brain.
As a candidate for governor of a state where the percentage of the population with Hispanic heritage has only grown from the 25.6% that the 2010 census recorded following the enormous influx of Puerto Rican refugees from Hurricane Maria who settled in Florida, he knows that the path to victory depends at the very least on not alienating Latino voters—particularly those displaced Puerto Ricans who, as U.S. citizens, can simply register locally in their new communities to be able to vote in the state.
Now, Politico is reporting that President Trump is privately furious with DeSantis, telling his friends and allies that the Florida Republican has publicly betrayed him by disagreeing with his ludicrous assertion that the massively under-reported death toll in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria was subsequently inflated by Democrats for purely political purposes,
With Trump notoriously insistent upon complete fealty from his minions, he is viewing the statement DeSantis made after Trump claimed in a tweet last week that “3,000 people did not die” on the island as “profoundly disloyal,” according to Politico.
“Ron DeSantis is committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life. He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated,” the DeSantis campaign said last week in the offending statement.
While other Floridian candidates, including current Governor Rick Scott who is running against Democratic Senator Bill Nelson for his Senate seat, have similarly distanced themselves from Trump’s offensive comments, the president is most angry with DeSantis over the contradiction since he views the candidate as having only won the primary because of Trump’s support.
Trump sees himself as having spent a tremendous amount of political capital on the formerly little-known congressman after endorsing DeSantis in the primary, campaigning with the candidate during his frequent trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort in the state, and praising him mightily on Twitter.
People “familiar with the president’s thinking” credit Trump’s subsequent notion of DeSantis’s political indebtedness as the source of his anger over the candidate’s response to his embarrassing tweet.
While one person with access to the president’s thinking described the situation as a “divorce,” with Trump refusing to conduct any further campaigning on DeSantis’ behalf, other Trump aides believe that he’ll cool off once the political realities of the campaign settle in, and he looks for Republican victories in the midterms which he can then claim as his own doing.
“He knows Florida is more of a hospitable place for him in 2020 with DeSantis in the governor’s mansion than [Democrat] Andrew Gillum. President Trump needs DeSantis in 2020 just like DeSantis needs Trump in 2018,” said former Trump advisor Michael Caputo, a part-time Florida resident.
The DeSantis campaign is now backpedaling in an effort to play both ends against the middle and salvage the rift with Trump over the issue.
“Ron DeSantis knows first-hand that President Trump honored all requests for Hurricane Maria relief and it is sad, though predictable, that Democrats are wrongly politicizing this issue and that the media is constantly trying to drive a wedge between the president and members of his own party,” the campaign said in a statement. “As governor, Ron will continue to work with the president through his reelection and second term to accomplish great things for Florida.”
Notably, this new statement does not retract DeSantis’ claim that the death toll was not inflated by scheming Democrats as the president accuses, so it remains to be seen whether it will assuage Trump’s massive ego. With hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans estimated to be on Florida’s voting rolls, DeSantis needs to walk a tightrope as he tries to find the path that will alienate the fewest voters.
With Democrats fielding an exceptionally strong and qualified candidate in the African-American Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Desantis will need all the support he can get. Given the Republican’s waffling on the issue of Trump’s response to Hurrican Maria, Floridians of all ethnicities would be much better served by choosing his Democratic opponent as their next Governor.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.