2024 face-off? Some in GOP mulling DeSantis challenge to Trump for presidential nod

A draft movement called "Ready for Ron" has been started to petition Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to run for president in 2024.

Updated: June 5, 2022 - 11:13pm

Could the GOP presidential primary race in 2024 see the two big dogs of the new Republican Party squaring off against each other?

Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have been aligned on many issues and say they remain on good terms with each other. But DeSantis' rising national profile combined with some questioning of Trump's legacy on the COVID-19 pandemic has some on the right mulling a matchup between the two.

In an interview Wednesday, Florida attorney Lilian Rodriguez-Baz touted "Ready for Ron," a petition effort she and longtime GOP campaign consultant Ed Rollins have launched to draft DeSantis to run for president in 2024.

"[W]e've seen how he's managed to keep Florida's economy alive and open throughout the pandemic," Rodriguez-Baz told "Just the News, Not Noise" TV show. "He is consistently facing off against big corporations, he isn't afraid to take the unpopular position ... if it means that he's going to be doing something that works. 

"So there's a verifiable track record that he's established, and we want to bring more national awareness of that, because ultimately, you know, we have him here in Florida, but he's really the leader that America needs going forward in order to course-correct a lot of the things that the left is doing."

Rollins, chairman of the pro-Trump Great America PAC, tweeted a message last week that sought, in effect, to give permission to Trump voters to support DeSantis. "There's no better candidate to continue Pres. Trump's America-First agenda & put an end to the disastrous Biden administration than Ron DeSantis," he wrote. "Help us draft Ron DeSantis at http://ReadyforRon.com."

"As of today he's not a candidate," Rollins told Fox News regarding Trump. "He has done nothing relative to the Federal Election Commission. He has not declared himself a candidate. ... What I'm arguing, just as we did four years ago for him with the Great America PAC, is that there are elements to a presidential campaign, organizing grassroots, those kinds of things, that need to be done." 

He later added that he doesn't think Trump and DeSantis "will run against each other."

A major issue that DeSantis and Trump have differed on is COVID pandemic policy.

The former president initially followed the public health policy advice of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and pushed for the expedited approval of the COVID vaccines. Fauci advocated policies such as lockdowns and masking, and the Biden administration has since forced the vaccines on Americans through vaccine mandates.

Trump increasingly distanced himself from Fauci over time as it became apparent that the NIAID director was flip-flopping on his advice.

DeSantis also touted Fauci's advice on COVID in the early days of the pandemic, but by June 2020, he had allowed the Sunshine State's shuttered bars and restaurants to reopen, and in September he essentially lifted all remaining statewide restrictions on Florida's economy.

In January of this year, Trump and DeSantis appeared to take subtle jabs at each other over the COVID vaccine, as the latter has appeared to step back from promoting the shots amid federal mandates, while Trump continues to laud Operation Warp Speed, his administration's landmark effort to develop the vaccines on a crash timetable.

"I watched a couple of politicians be interviewed," Trump told One America News Network in January, "and one of the questions was, 'Did you get the booster?' Because they had the vaccine, and they're answering like — in other words, the answer is 'yes,' but they don't want to say it, because they're gutless. You gotta say it, whether you had it or not, say it."

DeSantis said later that month that he believed getting a booster shot is a "private decision."

"That is something I think people should make their own decisions on," the Florida governor said. "I'm not going to use that — to let that be a weapon for people to be able to use."

Meanwhile, in a January interview with the conservative talk podcast Ruthless, DeSantis responded to a question about his relationship with Trump amid the supposed tension.

"I think this is what the media does," DeSantis said. "You cannot fall for the bait, you know what they are trying to do. Don't take the bait."

He added that conservatives need to stay united "for a big red wave in 2022."

DeSantis noted, however, that if he had it to do over again, he "would have been much louder" with Trump about not locking down the country at the beginning of the pandemic, adding that the administration followed Fauci's advice too readily.

"People like Fauci panicked, they were following the data out of China, which is not trustworthy," he said.

Trump later responded on Fox News' "Hannity" to a media report on the perceived rift between him and DeSantis.

"I get along great with Ron," Trump said. "He's been a friend of mine for a long time. It's totally fake news. I think Ron said last week, he said it very publicly: The press is never going to get in the middle of my friendship with Donald Trump."

DeSantis, who was endorsed by Trump in his 2018 campaign for the Florida governorship, is running for reelection this year. He had reportedly raised over $100 million for his race as of April.

Trump has repeatedly called the 2020 presidential election "rigged" and "stolen," due to irregularities in various states, as he's pushed for election integrity across the country.

Following the 2020 election, while praising the security of Florida's elections, DeSantis has signed more state election integrity measures into law, even instituting an election integrity police force.

DeSantis has signed bills on a variety of hot-button issues that have pushed him into the national spotlight, including measures banning abortion after 15 weeks, implementing the largest tax relief bill in Florida historybanning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools, banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, and stripping Walt Disney World's special tax status after the company came out publicly against the Parental Rights in Education bill.