Elections 2024FederalTrump Takes Aim at Potential 2024 Challenger Ron DeSantis at Waco Campaign Rally

The former president took aim at his most prominent potential rival for the GOP nomination and fellow Floridian during his visit to Texas.
March 28, 2023
A crowd estimated to be 15,000 strong spent the day gathered on a hot airport tarmac in Waco with little shade to greet former U.S. President Donald Trump on the first traveling campaign stop for his re-election bid, marking his third run for the presidency.

Numerous officials took the stage prior to Trump’s arrival around 6 p.m., including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

The Trump campaign revealed the Texas leadership team for the 2024 campaign during the event, with Patrick and Miller alongside two other statewide Texas officials, Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Eleven Republican congressional members were also named in the leadership team, as well as former U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores, including:

  • Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX-13)
  • Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX-22)
  • Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-TX-38)
  • Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX-26)
  • Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX-17) 
  • Rep. John Carter (R-TX-31) 
  • Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX-14) 
  • Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX-25) 
  • Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX-36)
  • Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX-24) 
  • Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX-4) 

While Trump’s roughly 90-minute speech included many of his usual campaign talking points, he also turned his attention toward his biggest potential challenger for the GOP nomination: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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Trump let a full volley of attacks fly against his fellow Florida Republican, beginning with allegations that DeSantis opposes federal social programs like Social Security and Medicare, before taking aim at how DeSantis managed his state during the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming he shut the state down.

“We have great Republican governors actually, really much better who shut down their states for a very short time, or, in some cases, didn’t shut them down at all,” Trump said, adding, “I look at South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee, I mean we had some states that did a phenomenal job with no shutdowns. You know I gave them the right not to shut down. Not everybody did, you didn’t have to shut down. But in the case of Florida they, unfortunately, did shut down.”

DeSantis did order shutdown procedures similar to most states in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, however, after opening the state back up, DeSantis quickly became one of the most visible opponents of shutdown restrictions in the nation.

While the public-facing position of the Trump administration was to allow the states to decide how to respond, some former Trump officials later praised state shutdown responses and even indicated the back channels communications took an approach that contradicted the public approach.

Steve Munisteri, who served as deputy assistant to the president under the Trump administration, defended COVID-19 shutdown actions taken by Gov. Greg Abbott to an audience of Midland Republicans in 2021, saying the governors who shut down were doing so under the direction of the administration.

Munisteri is now a senior advisor to Abbott, who in turn was endorsed for re-election by Trump in the 2022 midterm elections.

Abbott was delivering a keynote address in Houston on Saturday for the National Border Patrol Council dinner, making him one of several Trump-endorsed Republicans not in attendance at the rally.

In fact, Abbott has so far refrained from endorsing Trump or anyone else in the 2024 election, and when asked by a reporter earlier this year whether he was considering a 2024 presidential bid himself, Abbott noticeably did not rule it out of the question, rather claiming he wasn’t “ruling it in.”

“I think a more accurate way to say it is it’s not something I’m ruling in right now. I’m focused on Texas, period,” Abbott said.

Trump took issue with DeSantis’ own similarly ambiguous responses to the media regarding his 2024 plans. He claimed that DeSantis “begged” him for an endorsement when running for governor, and his not ruling out a White House bid when asked by reporters was “not supposed to happen!”

While DeSantis hasn’t made a decision on a White House bid himself, hypothetical polls have placed him as the top contender to Trump.

A March poll conducted by the conservative group Defend Texas Liberty placed Trump 16 points ahead of DeSantis in a matchup for 2024 Republican primary voters, giving him a wider margin of support than was indicated in other prior polls.

A November poll conducted by the Republican Party of Texas had DeSantis leading Trump by 11 points in the state, and despite not being officially in the race, the Florida leader has already locked up support from leading conservative Texas figures like Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21).


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Matt Stringer

Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.