Trump hopes to 'scare DeSantis out of running' with nonstop smears: report
Donald Trump at MAGA rally in support of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in 2018. (mark reinstein /

Former President Donald Trump has already promoted smears accusing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of being a "groomer," but apparently that's just the start of his all-out attack campaign against his potential top rival for the Republican presidential nomination.

Axios reports that Trump is plotting to ramp up his rhetorical assault on the Florida governor in the coming weeks on multiple fronts, ranging from his past support for raising the eligibility age for Medicare, to his support for arming Ukraine against Russian aggression, to his past as an apparent ally of former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Most audaciously, Trump is going to attack DeSantis from the right for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic even though DeSantis at the time was one of most aggressive governors in throwing out restrictions intended to control a disease that would go on to kill more than a million Americans.

"DeSantis' response to COVID is a top Trump target, even though the governor is known for resisting mask mandates," Axios writes. "Trump plans to attack DeSantis' caution in the earliest days of the pandemic — and try to fight the issue to a draw."

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The goal of all this, writes Axios, is to "scare DeSantis out of running" by showing a willingness to go full scorched Earth in a way that could reduce DeSantis to being the second coming of Jeb Bush.

DeSantis' team so far has resisted fighting back against Trump, although Axios' report notes that "waiting to respond could be risky — and undermine DeSantis' efforts to cast himself as a tough, principled alternative to the former president."