It’s not the first public sign of a major fracture between the two top contenders so far for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, but it might be the most significant.
On Sunday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed anti-Trump Republican Colorado Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, who’s managed to make the race closer than expected in a reliably blue state.
Also on Sunday, former President Donald Trump took to his social media platform, Truth Social, to call the move “A BIG MISTAKE!”
On Sunday, the Washington Examiner reported that DeSantis was recording a robocall for O’Dea, who’s trailing Democrat incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet by 7.5 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average, although the gap has been narrowing in what was expected to be a Democratic blowout.
“Hello this is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. America needs strong leadership and desperately. That’s why I’m endorsing Joe O’Dea for U.S. Senate. Colorado, please vote for Joe O’Dea,” DeSantis said in the robocall, the Washington Examiner reported.
“I’ve watched Joe from a distance. And I’m impressed.”
DeSantis went on to say that O’Dea, a 60-year-old businessman, “isn’t a career politician. He’s a contractor. He’s built a company from nothing. He’s a leader who knows how to fight and get results. Michael Bennet votes with Joe Biden 98 percent of the time. The results have been a disaster for the American people,”
“Colorado needs new leadership.”
“Joe’s focused on building the wall and cracking down on crime,” DeSantis noted. “He’ll stand up to the big spending politicians in both parties and cut red tape. Vote Joe O’Dea and let’s turn Colorado red!”
The robocall could be seen as a pointed rejection of Trump, since O’Dea has distanced himself from the former president in a state where MAGA hats aren’t a preferred form of headwear.
Appearing on CNN on Oct. 16, O’Dea called the Capitol incursion a “black eye” for the country and promised to work against any attempt by Trump to secure the Republican nomination for a third time.
“I don’t think Donald Trump should run again,” O’Dea said. “I’m going to actively campaign against Donald Trump and make sure that we have got four or five really great Republicans right now.
“Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, they could run and serve for eight years,” he added. “I’m going to do my job as a U.S. senator to make sure that they have good campaigns in the primary here, so we have a good selection of candidates for 2024.”
Trump took to Truth Social the following day to denounce O’Dea.
“There’s this RINO character in the Great State of Colorado, Joe O’Dea, that is running against the incumbent Democrat for the United States Senate, who is having a good old time saying that he wants to ‘distance’ himself from President Trump, and other slightly nasty things,” Trump wrote.
“He should look at the Economy, Inflation, Energy Independence, defeating ISIS, the Strongest EVER Border, Great Trade Deals, & much more, before he speaks. MAGA doesn’t Vote for stupid people with big mouths. Good luck Joe!”
Given that, DeSantis‘ “BIG MISTAKE” endorsement represents the most public break between the two most names competing for the 2024 GOP nod.
There have been more private signs of a break, with Trump (now a Florida resident) not endorsing DeSantis in his 2022 re-election bid and DeSantis not particularly eager for the former president’s help on the campaign trail.
A Trump adviser told The Washington Post last month that while DeSantis and Trump used to talk regularly, “those days are gone” and that Trump is looking toward potentially exploiting DeSantis’ reported aloofness on the national stage.
That said, Trump might not be able to glean an advantage by using the Colorado election as a proxy fight with DeSantis, particularly if O’Dea keeps it close but ends up losing.
The battle for the divided Senate is close and the former president’s rivals within the Republican Party have seized upon Trump-backed candidates who have underperformed in seats that could be GOP pickups in a wave election year — particularly Blake Masters in Arizona, Herschel Walker in Georgia and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania.
If those candidates underperform on Election Day and O’Dea overperforms — but still loses — Trump’s prolonged attacks on O’Dea and DeSantis will end up being a point of contention in the 2024 race.
Say what you will about the Colorado Republican nominee, whomever the GOP nominates for president — and Republicans around the country — would rather have O’Dea in the upper chamber than Bennett, a one-time contender for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.
Trump has made his point about O’Dea. Now DeSantis has made his. Prolonged infighting in this situation helps no one except the Democrats — and it won’t be forgotten two years from now.