According to three people who’ve spoken to the former president about the Florida governor last year and in more recent months, Trump has repeatedly ridiculed DeSantis for ripping off the ex-president’s style. “There was this time, maybe a year ago, that I remember him making fun of [DeSantis] for doing similar hand gestures and motions,” one of these individuals tells Rolling Stone. “He called it ‘stealing’ from him and [to paraphrase] described it as a lame impression of Trump.”
Trump has a distinctive (and much-satirized) way of gesticulating while casually talking, delivering political speeches, or even “firing” contestants on his former game show. The sources note that when Trump has seen video clips of of DeSantis speaking at public events over the past year and a half, the former president has scornfully mocked the ascendant Florida Republican for appearing to imitate his body language, movements, and even, at times, speaking rhythm. One of the other sources recalls Trump joking at a dinner event earlier this year that he should sue DeSantis for copyright infringement.
The alleged rip-offs have raised eyebrows with other members of “America First” royalty. Donald Trump Jr. has told those close to him that he has noticed an uncanny pattern: Often he will tweet something from @DonaldJTrumpJr — a culture-war grievance or a burgeoning trend among the online right — and then very soon after, he will see those specific topics incorporated into the Florida governor’s talking points. This has happened enough times that Trump’s eldest son has come to believe, according to a person familiar with the matter, that DeSantis and his staff likely look to his Twitter account for inspiration and to raid it for their latest policy ideas or red-meat-hurling rhetoric.
The eerie similarities — not just in MAGA ideology, but in Trumpian body language and physicality — isn’t just something laughed about in the halls of Mar-a-Lago or Bedminister, though. The case that impersonating Trump has gotten so strong that it’s become impossible to miss on social media, in the press, and among Republican Party bigwigs and its loyal donor class.
“DeSantis certainly mimics Trump’s style, rhetoric, and body language. Desantis’ bombastic style seems to be ripped straight out of a Donald Trump style guide. Trump proved that Republican voters want a fighter, and Desantis aims to deliver,” says Dan Eberhart, chief executive at Canary and a longtime GOP donor. Eberhart has donated big money to Trump in the past, but now says he’d rather back someone like DeSantis in a potential 2024 race. Echoing a sentiment shared by some conservative leaders concerned Trump’s various legal problems could negatively impact another presidential run, Eberhart has also said he would “reluctantly” support Trump, if the ex-president wins the party’s nomination in 2024.
From the friendly confines of his New Jersey and Florida homes, the former president has indeed been keeping a watchful eye trained on DeSantis and the governor’s blossoming national celebrity status among the conservatives. The twice-impeached ex-president is still the clear leader of the Republican Party, and the polling favorite to win the 2024 presidential nomination, should he formally declare his intention to seek it.
But as DeSantis’ clout has grown among Republican voters, right-wing media stars, and GOP leaders and mega-donors, Trump has privately voiced anger over DeSantis’ supposed lack of gratitude and refusal to rule out challenging the former president in 2024.
Trump and DeSantis have sniped at the other in public, each without specifically naming the other. DeSantis criticized the Trump administration for measures aimed at “locking down the country” at the dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic, while appearing on the conservative Ruthless podcast earlier this year. For his part, the ex-president had gone on the incredibly pro-Trump TV channel OAN to strongly suggest that DeSantis was “gutless.” Both Trump and DeSantis have tried to publicly downplay the budding feud as a supposed invention of the news media.
In the time since, Trump — who behind closed doors trashes DeSantis as charisma-free — has even toyed with launching a 2024 presidential campaign near the governor’s mansion in Florida, which would double as an obvious effort to troll DeSantis. The ex-president has been taking stock of who he feels is sticking with him and who might defect to Team DeSantis, in “the Fox News primary,” and has singled out hosts and informal Trump advisers, like Laura Ingraham, as possible future defectors.
But just as DeSantis was enjoying some gains in polls for potential 2024 Republican contenders, Trump’s Florida estate of Mar-a-Lago was raided by the FBI this month. It was a federal search, stemming from an investigation related to the former president’s apparent hoarding of highly classified documents, and like most Republicans, DeSantis dutifully denounced it.
The raid led to a polling bump among Republicans for the ex-president — just as some of Trump’s staunchest allies had hoped.