Donald Trump and his allies are planning a coordinated effort to upend the media cycle around the presidential campaign launch of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, which will include videos and a social media blitz leaning on high-profile, Trump-aligned conservative commentators, sources familiar with the plans told CNN.
The messaging strategy will involve some Trump surrogates appearing in Miami, where DeSantis is set to gather with donors beginning Wednesday. Make America Great Again, Inc., the Trump-aligned super PAC, will also have a presence in the city. The group plans to have a box truck playing a new attack ad as it circles the Miami hotel where DeSantis will be. The 60-second digital ad hits DeSantis on his tenure as a congressman in Washington, painting the Florida governor as a Washington “swamp creature” who was trying to cut entitlements while Trump was entering the White House. The ad presents a side-by-side comparison of Trump’s and DeSantis’ time in DC and marks their differences in policy.
At one point, the former president filmed a video to potentially post in conjunction with the DeSantis announcement, according to a source familiar, but it is unclear if Trump’s team plans to release it publicly at this point.
DeSantis is set to announce his 2024 bid for the White House Wednesday evening in a conversation with Twitter owner Elon Musk. Allies close to the former president have urged him to reignite his once-prolific Twitter account, which he regained access to last year after being banned following the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Many of his allies believe using Twitter will allow him to control the narrative in the GOP primary.
Trump’s allies and advisers have been floating ideas on how to best navigate DeSantis’ looming announcement for months. As part of the counterprogramming effort, the Trump campaign and its allies are expected to attack DeSantis on a wide range of past policy stances, including reforming entitlement programs, trade policy, China and his response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
DeSantis is widely seen as Trump’s chief rival in the GOP primary, and Trump has been treating the governor as if he was a candidate for months. The former president accused DeSantis of disloyalty after Trump endorsed him in his 2018 gubernatorial primary in Florida. DeSantis ran heavily on Trump’s endorsement, which helped propel him in the race. Since then, DeSantis has gained popularity among Republicans on his own, stoking culture wars through policies aimed at schools and businesses. DeSantis won his second election in a landslide in 2022, as Trump saw many of his preferred midterm candidates fall flat.
Despite a surge in Trump poll numbers that indicate a political rebound for the former president – including one by CNN released on Wednesday – his advisers have said that they still believe that DeSantis, a rising star in the Republican Party, is a threat. MAGA Inc. has spent more than $8 million on ads going after DeSantis, as the Florida governor and his supporters have worked to portray him as a viable alternative to the former president, who remains mired in legal battles.
On Monday, MAGA Inc. unveiled a video on social media targeting DeSantis’ Covid-19 response. Trump advisers have privately expressed concern that the issue, including promotion of Covid vaccines, could be a potential weakness for the former president with Republican voters as DeSantis has sought to get to the right of Trump.
“My view is, if you get a vaccine, the vaccines are effective, you are immune,” DeSantis says in one clip included in the video. “If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from covid is effectively zero,” he says in another clip.
The video highlights DeSantis’ early and vocal support for the Covid vaccine, which has waned in recent years, with the Florida governor pushing to permanently ban Covid-19 mandates in the state. He’s also refused to say whether he received a Covid-19 booster shot.
DeSantis previewed a potential line of attack against Trump during a speech in Orlando over the weekend. “The way they weaponized these Covid vaxes was a massive incursion into our freedoms,” DeSantis said. “We can never allow ‘Warp Speed’ to trump informed consent in this country ever again.”
This story has been updated with additional information.