'The party thinks it’s wildly unfair': GOP insiders triggered by DeSantis’ mild swipe at Trump
Governor Ron DeSantis speaking at a Turning Point USA event in Tampa, Florida. (Gage Skidmore)

Although Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn't officially announced a 2024 presidential run, the far-right MAGA Republican certainly sounded like he was planning to run during a recent interview with television journalist Piers Morgan.

DeSantis, discussing the possibility of former President Donald Trump facing a criminal indictment in connection with alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of "pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office." But he also took a swipe at Trump, albeit a mild one.

The two-term governor, who was reelected by 19 percent in the 2022 midterms, told Morgan, "I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I can't speak to that. Well, there's a lot of speculation about what the underlying conduct is…. That's just outside my wheelhouse. I mean, that's just not something that I can speak to."

Mild or not, DeSantis has been drawing vehement criticism from some diehard Trump loyalists in response to those comments. DeSantis' admirers, including author/right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter and the Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro, see him as the MAGA movement's best option for a post-Trump future, but Trump still enjoys considerable support in the GOP.

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In an article published by The Hill on March 23, journalist Al Weaver takes a look at some Republican responses to DeSantis' Trump-related comments.

A Republican operative, quoted anonymously, told The Hill, "The attacks from this week are too cute by half and come off as childish. What's happening this week, the party thinks it's wildly unfair and the way President Trump is being treated is a total joke, and they're rallying around him — and that's from a lot of people who love him, people who hate him who think he's being treated unfairly. These attacks are being perceived as cheap shots, kicking someone while they're down. So, I don't think they've helped (DeSantis). If anything, they've helped Trump."

Another GOP strategist, also quoted anonymously, told The Hill, "Donald Trump creates the playing field on which everyone's playing on. He has the ability to create and shape what everyone's talking about. Your success in today's Republican Party is dependent on your ability to play on his game board. (DeSantis' staff) could have had a camera on him in Tallahassee in five minutes on Saturday (March 18). He could have said it in an off-the-cuff line, and it would have been fine instead of it coming days later and it feeling like it was a calculated line."

But conservative Sen. Kevin Cramer was more positive in his response to DeSantis' comments. And he wasn't interviewed anonymously.

The North Dakota Republican told The Hill, "It's gutsy. He's stepping into a big arena. It's a big arena. He's probably calculating that if he's going to be in that arena, you can't just take all the blows. You have to land a couple yourself."