(The Hill) — President Joe Biden has repeatedly talked about taking on former President Donald Trump.
He still tells anyone who will listen that he’s the only Democrat who can defeat the former president, and he said last month that he wouldn’t be disappointed if Trump ran against him in 2024.
But some Democrats say that if Biden does run for reelection, he also needs to actively target Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and stop boxing himself into a Trump race.
Trump is all but certain to enter the race, but with the Jan. 6 hearings hammering him and potential lawsuits looming, DeSantis is the Republican to watch, some Democrats say.
“To me, DeSantis is the scarier prospect,” one Democratic strategist said. “He’s a smarter version of Trump, he’s way more strategic, and he doesn’t have a hundred lawsuits at his feet.“
“If Trump goes bust, and he very well may, he’s the main guy I’d be watching,” the strategist said of the Florida governor.
Throughout his administration, DeSantis has made it a point to use Biden as a foil, blaming the president for policies he says are taking the country in the wrong direction.
In recent days, he has doubled down on Biden’s push for vaccine booster shots to help combat COVID-19, which still rages throughout much of the country.
“We just saw Joe Biden test positive for COVID, right? And I’ve said we obviously wish him well on that, but you know, this is a guy that’s taken how many booster shots? I mean, seriously, [he’s] done all this stuff and gets it,” DeSantis told supporters late last month at an event in Tampa.
During another speech that week, he also used Biden’s diagnosis to blast him. “I want to wish the president a speedy recovery from COVID and America a speedy recovery from Biden.”
As DeSantis runs for reelection this year in a state that has been moving toward Republicans, Democrats say Biden and other national Democrats should take him on.
“What’s inexplicable to me is, why — not just Joe Biden — but the entire Democratic establishment isn’t trying to disqualify him now in the governor’s race,” said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based pollster and consultant whose firm helped Barack Obama’s presidential campaign win the state in 2008 and 2012.
“He’s getting an absolute free pass,” Amandi said of DeSantis. “He has no sense of shame. … He’s acting like someone who doesn’t feel accountable to anyone.”
It’s not as though Biden has been completely silent on DeSantis. In recent months, he has taken on policies in Florida endorsed by the governor.
The Biden administration went after DeSantis after Florida was the only state in the country that didn’t preorder pediatric COVID-19 vaccines.
The president has also taken veiled swipes at DeSantis on other issues, including Disney, after the governor signed a bill into law stripping its self-government power that provides derives for its theme parks. The law was seen as payback after Disney criticized DeSantis for the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits discussion of sexual orientation in classrooms.
“This is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said at a Democratic National Committee fundraising event in April. “It’s not even conservative in a traditional sense of conservatism. It’s mean. It’s ugly. I mean, look at what’s happening now in Florida: Christ, they’re going after Mickey Mouse.”
Biden also took to Twitter to voice his opposition to the law.
“I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are,” the president wrote on the social media platform. “I have your back, and my administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
Still, some Democrats say they’d like to see Biden go after DeSantis more. They say he should emulate California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who, in a rare move, took the fight to DeSantis by airing an ad on Fox News last month.
“Biden has to spend more time in Florida, taking on DeSantis, and not giving him the complete stage,” the strategist said. “We can’t be surprised when he suddenly emerges as the favorite of the party because we see this train coming.”
While Trump continues to dominate polls for Republicans, DeSantis appears to be on his heels in key states. A Detroit News poll of likely Republican primary voters found DeSantis statistically tied with Trump. A University of New Hampshire poll also found both Republicans dead even in the state.
But for now, at least, Biden remains largely fixated on Trump, Biden allies say.
“They believe strongly in the end that Trump will be the nominee,” said one ally who speaks to White House officials regularly. “That’s the governing theory, until somebody proves otherwise.”
As Martin Sweet, a professor of political science at Purdue University put it: “For Biden, using Trump as the leader of the opposition is a useful, motivating tool.”
“Trump is such shorthand for everything,” he said. “He is such a unique political figure that it would be crazy not to talk about him.”