For nearly a year, Donald Trump’s confidants, advisers, and supporters have worried that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is positioning himself to side with the former president on Covid vaccines.
DeSantis, who was considering whether to challenge Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, deepened those doubts on Tuesday.
In a roundtable meeting of Covid vaccine skeptics and opponents — including his own surgeon general — he urged the state Supreme Court to mandate a grand jury to investigate whether pharmaceutical companies have criminally misled Floridans about the side effects of vaccines, a contradictory position. with Prevention Centers.
DeSantis was a huge supporter of vaccines last year and once described them as lifesavers, but later opposed them, reflecting a shift in conservative Republican opinion. Until January, he refused to even say whether he had received a booster, and that prompted the rapid development of Operation Warp Speed vaccines, prompting Trump to give him a thinly veiled shot, if not by name, for being “cowardly”. ”
DeSantis’ decision to research vaccines now has caused widespread panic. By those in Trump’s orbit.
“Before that, his position was the same as Trump’s, advocating for the efficacy and safety of vaccines. That’s his record,” said Roger Stone, a long-time adviser to Trump and an outspoken critic of DeSantis.
“This is a shot from the bow. We know exactly what Ron’s up to.”
“The truth is, we’ve seen this coming for a year since Ron started being anti-vaccine,” the Republican said, explaining the governor’s opposition to the vaccine. “Yes, there is a part of our base that is anti-vaccine, and some people might turn away from Trump on that. That’s why Ron is doing this. It’s very transparent.”
“After China unleashed this deadly virus to the rest of the world, the President Trump administration has worked tirelessly to secure medical equipment to save the lives of infected Americans,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said in a written statement.
“Operation Warp Speed was a once-in-a-lifetime venture that gave people the option to use therapeutics if they wanted to,” he added. “It has also fought against attempts to federalize the pandemic response, preserving the right of each state to ultimately decide what is best for its people due to the unique challenges faced by each state.”
Those familiar with DeSantis’ thinking downplayed the political implications, pointing out that he was one of the first high-profile Republicans to challenge expert opinion and health care professionals when it comes to COVID response, due to his decision to reopen the state and schools early. Banning vaccine and mask powers for hiring Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who has been criticized for questioning vaccines on far-right social media channels.
DeSantis is also the nation’s top infectious disease specialist at the time of the pandemic, who became anathema to conservatives in 2020 despite resisting pressure to topple Trump in 2020. He was one of the first public critics of Anthony Fauci. (while still criticizing him often).
“This isn’t about 2024. It’s about what DeSantis believes in,” said one Republican who was not authorized to speak publicly on his behalf.
DeSantis’ announcement came just hours after a study found that vaccines had saved the lives of 3.2 million Americans. Also Tuesday, a University of Suffolk/USA Today national poll of Republicans found that Trump was in bad shape, according to DeSantis, who was voted 56-33% over the former president in a hypothetical primary.
The poll also showed DeSantis ahead of President Joe Biden by 47% to 43% in a theoretical general election matchup, but Biden outpaced Trump by 47% to 40%.
“What we see in the Republicans is candidates who are strong in a primary but weak in a general, or vice versa, but a DeSantis double-barreled shotgun,” Suffolk pollster David Paleologos told NBC News. “DeSantis support spans many columns and crosstabs, and that includes Trump voters, and most of them are anti-vaccine.”
In Florida, home to both DeSantis and Trump, a poll released last week by the Republican firm of Ragnar Research Partners showed the governor is more popular with Republicans in Sunshine State, including those who consider themselves Trump voters. Chris Perkins, Ragnar’s pollster, said DeSantis drew on a wide cross-section of Republican voters.
Perkins said the share of anti-vaccine Republicans was very small but “very vocal”.
Advisors say Trump is afraid of losing them.
“He knows there is a problem with the base and the vaccines,” another Trump adviser said. “But if this is a fight DeSantis wants to choose, bring it.”
A year ago, at an event in Dallas with former Fox personality Bill O’Reilly, Trump was booed for saying he had a booster shot, and advisers said it surprised him.
“He waved, but the boos sent a message,” said one counselor who discussed the issue with him and shared the anecdote on condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations. “We told him some people hated it but he said he didn’t care. He’s proud of Warp Speed. He’s stubborn. But he’s also watching DeSantis and it pisses him off.”
Indeed, DeSantis’ refusal to say whether he was supported last winter came less than a month after Trump was booed. At this point, the former president was already pissed off with DeSantis, who won the 2018 governor’s primary with Trump’s support, but later rejected a commitment not to run against Trump in 2024, according to those who spoke to Trump.
DeSantis owes his entire political career to Trump and will appear ungrateful if he runs against him,” said Laura Loomer, a conservative activist and former Republican congressional candidate for Governor Florida. “So the only option for DeSantis to challenge Trump is to him. attacking the vaccine. That’s dishonest.