Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) presidential campaign is facing pushback after his team shared a video attacking former President Trump over his past comments in support of the LGBTQ community.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (D), the first openly gay man to be confirmed as Cabinet secretary, responded to the video on CNN Sunday by asking who DeSantis was trying to “make better off” with the video. Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympic decathlete who came out as transgender in 2015, said the video marked “a new low” for the campaign. Even 2024 Republican presidential contenders Chris Christie and Will Hurd said the video was divisive.
The video shared Friday — the last day of LGBTQ Pride month — includes resurfaced clips of the former president saying he would “do everything in my power” to protect LGBTQ citizens and expressing support for transgender individuals to use the restroom of their choice.
The video then cuts to clips of DeSantis and a series of headlines discussing policies DeSantis has passed as governor of Florida concerning the LGBTQ community, including a ban on transgender people using public bathrooms that are consistent with their gender identity and restrictions on access to gender-affirming health care.
Some LGBTQ Republicans, responding to Friday’s video, said in interviews with The Hill that they would no longer support DeSantis as the GOP nominee in 2024. Some questioned whether they would back a Republican candidate at all.
“I’m somebody who has my fair share of policy disagreements with DeSantis, but I was considering voting for him in the primary before he entered the race officially,” said Brad Polumbo, an openly gay libertarian journalist and self-described “anti-Trump voter.” “Since then, he’s done thing after thing that really makes me increasingly write off that possibility.”
“This was the final nail in the coffin,” said former New Hampshire state Rep. Yvonne Dean-Bailey (R), who said she had previously considered backing DeSantis in 2024 but will now likely vote third-party.
“At this point, I can’t see myself voting for DeSantis,” she said, adding, “I don’t even want to call myself a conservative anymore. I don’t identify with these people.”
“I used to think he was a great governor,” Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has endorsed Trump and is the first non-incumbent gay Republican elected to Congress, said of DeSantis. “Now, I’m starting to think differently.”
“DeSantis under-calculated his hand and doesn’t realize that every vote matters,” Santos added.
Other Republicans, however, believe the video is indicative of how hard DeSantis’s campaign is working to appeal to social conservatives within the party, particularly in Iowa.
“This is clearly a play at Iowa, social conservatives and traditional Republicans,” said Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based Republican strategist. “This is an attempt for DeSantis to get to the right of Trump.”
According to May polling from the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down obtained by Real Clear Politics, 46 percent of Christians said they would caucus for DeSantis, while 45 percent said the same for Trump. The polling also found that 60 percent of “traditional Republicans” would caucus for DeSantis over the former president.
“It’s more of a way to shock the news cycle because Trump just sucks up so much oxygen all the time,” said New Hampshire House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, who has endorsed DeSantis. “It’s a parody of how the left is treating DeSantis.”
Dan Eberhart, a DeSantis donor, noted in a text message to The Hill that the spot was “hard-hitting, but politics ain’t beanbags.”
“And it’s not like Trump cares about being polite,” Eberhart added.
Others said the video signals the start of a new chapter in DeSantis’s campaign strategy.
“This is marking the next phase of the campaign where he’s going to start highlighting the differences between himself and Donald Trump as far as policy,” said former New Hampshire state Rep. Melissa Blasek (R). “What that video showed is that Donald Trump does not know what time it is when it comes to issues that are important to Republican voters anymore.”
Yet, others note that endorsing the video may have misfired on DeSantis’s team, especially as members of Trump’s campaign have seized the opportunity to criticize the governor.
Trump’s senior adviser Jason Miller shared the video on his own Twitter page, writing “Somebody’s getting fired.”
“It’s an unforced error. I don’t know a single voter who was inspired to go out and vote for Ron DeSantis because of that tweet,” said Alex Stroman, a South Carolina Republican strategist. “It actually made Donald Trump look reasonable.”
“It makes [Trump] look very, very tolerant and open-minded and kind of sensible, and yet they’re using it to try to outflank Trump to the right,” said Polumbo, the “anti-Trump” voter. “I don’t understand the political strategy.”
Ken Cuccinelli, the head of the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, responded to the criticism over the video in an interview on News Nation’s “The Hill” on Monday.
“I don’t think that he is,” Cuccinelli said when asked if he thought DeSantis was going too far on the issue.
“This is Donald Trump and obviously Ron DeSantis doesn’t agree with those positions,” he added. “Ron DeSantis is the leader on the leading cultural battle of our time. It’s a spiritual battle, it’s a cultural battle, and Republican voters care a great deal about it.”
Critics of DeSantis’s video also point out that the majority of voters are not on Twitter, meaning they likely won’t see the clip, but also that the campaign should invest more in retail politicking in the early contest states.
“Races are not won on Twitter and so I think it would behoove former President Trump and Gov. DeSantis to actually be taking their messages to regular voters who are not on Twitter,” Stroman said.
DeSantis is continuing to hit up the early contest states. The governor will take part in July 4th festivities with voters in New Hampshire on Tuesday. New Hampshire-based Republican strategist Matthew Bartlett noted that most New Hampshire voters are not tuned into the controversy surrounding the video.
“That is probably some saving grace to the DeSantis campaign because it is absolutely tone deaf, not just for New Hampshire, absolutely in the year 2023 even for the Republican Party,” Bartlett said.
Many Republican strategists flagged that the video does pose the risk of turning off swing voters ahead of a general election.
“The only way you can win the presidency is by winning over independents and I don’t think that that video won over a single independent voter,” Stroman said.
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