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Trump's base splinters on Ron DeSantis

The former president has indicated he feels personally betrayed that his onetime acolyte is considering a run against him in 2024.
Former President Donald Trump holds a rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump holds a rally in Waco, Texas, on Saturday.Nathan Howard / AP

WACO, Texas — Tammy Condra has very strong views about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his possible run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

"DeSantis will never win. DeSantis is a loser," the 56-year-old, self-described "stay-at-home goddess" from Fredericksburg, said during a rally for former President Donald Trump here Saturday. "He is deep state."

Like most voters here, many of whom drove long distances to stand for several hours under the hot sun on a regional airport tarmac, Condra is committed to seeing Trump win back the White House.

But her feelings about DeSantis are hardly universal among Trump supporters, which may help explain why Trump often reserves his most personal criticism of the Florida governor for more private settings.

From a stage at one end of the tarmac, Trump described a sense of betrayal over DeSantis, his onetime acolyte, considering a bid for the nomination. He jabbed DeSantis for having once embraced cuts to Medicare and Social Security, for Florida’s Covid-19 death rate and for embellishing his own efficacy as governor.

“Florida has been tremendously successful for many years, long before this guy became governor,” Trump said. “Florida has been successful for decades.”

A Trump supporter attends the former president's rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25, 2023.
A Trump supporter attends the former president's rally in Waco.Brandon Bell / Getty Images

But the critiques of DeSantis’ record proved tame in comparison to the personal attacks Trump delivered as he spoke with a handful of reporters on his jet after the rally. “He’s got no personality,” Trump said, musing that DeSantis might be working in a cigar shop if not for Trump’s endorsement of his campaign at a crucial moment in 2018.

The calibrations appear to reflect a political challenge that became obvious in interviews with more than a dozen rally participants: Many of his own supporters see DeSantis as the next great hope for the GOP — even if they believe a campaign against Trump is quixotic.

“DeSantis in the future? 100%,” said Mike McCown, a home-loan originator from Grand Prairie. “I would vote for him if he won the nomination, but he’s not going to win the nomination. Timing is everything, and DeSantis’ time will be here in five years.”

Ron Kearney, who lives about 100 miles west of Waco, said he's with Trump right now but will give DeSantis a look.

"There's always wiggle room. I could change my mind, absolutely," Kearney said. "I could be open to DeSantis. I like what he's doing down there."

Others said DeSantis could permanently damage himself by running against Trump.

“That would be the biggest mistake of his career,” said Michelle Bordelon, who traveled an hour to the rally. “He would definitely be committing political suicide if he runs right now.”

Former President Donald Trump holds a rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25, 2023.
The Waco rally was one of Trump's biggest since his presidency.Evan Vucci / AP

The range of views on DeSantis among Trump's most ardent backers — from current goat to future GOAT — suggest there is still room for both men to define each other at this early stage in the contest.

Without having entered the race, DeSantis already has distinguished himself in national and state-by-state polling as the most serious threat to Trump. And yet the former president, who won the nomination in 2016 and 2020, consistently ranks first in national surveys of a head-to-heat matchup, and in one that included other contenders.

The prospect that Trump could be indicted at any time by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg or other prosecutors does not seem to faze his supporters at all. Several said it made no difference in their evaluations of Trump's viability or of DeSantis as a possible nominee.

They universally dismissed the legal challenges facing Trump — possible indictments in Manhattan, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. — with "b" words, such as "bogus" and "baloney." From the stage, Trump used a different one — "bull----" — to describe the investigations.

Trump supporters dance after former president's rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25, 2023.
Trump supporters dance after the Waco rally.Nathan Howard / AP

Tammy Condra's husband, Vince, said he'll be with Trump even if the former president is charged, convicted and imprisoned.

"I'd vote for him from jail," Vince Condra, 59, said.