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Trump calls feud with DeSantis ‘fake news’

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TALLAHASSEE — Donald Trump says his perceived rift with Gov. Ron DeSantis is “fake news” even as the Republican governor won’t back down over their high-profile split over Covid-19 vaccine boosters.

During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday night, Trump praised DeSantis and said he continues to have a good relationship with him. His comments come after Trump last week called politicians who refuse to disclose whether they’ve received Covid booster shots “gutless” — as DeSantis has refused to do. DeSantis then shot back last week with criticism over the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic.

“I get along great with Ron,” Trump said. “Ron was very good on the Mueller hoax. He was right in front along with Jim Jordan and all of the rest of them.”

When he served in Congress, DeSantis was one of Trump’s staunchest defenders on Fox News as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigated alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. That got the otherwise backbench Florida congressman on the radar of Trump, who endorsed him for governor and fueled his upset win in the 2018 Florida GOP gubernatorial primary.

The tension between the two has been getting increased attention in recent weeks as DeSantis refuses to say he would not challenge Trump in 2024 if the former president runs for reelection.

Trump also recently said he would beat DeSantis in a hypothetical matchup and has touted Covid vaccines. DeSantis has never been against Covid vaccines but has downplayed them while promoting monoclonal antibody treatments instead.

During a Friday press conference, DeSantis maintained his previous position that getting a booster shot should be a “private decision.”

“That is something I think people should make their own decisions on,” he said without mentioning Trump. “I’m not going to use that, to let that be a weapon for people to be able to use.”

Democrats looking to derail the governor’s 2022 reelection effort and possible 2024 presidential bid have highlighted the apparent split between DeSantis and his political mentor.

“As Ron DeSantis continues to only care about boosting his own political profile, there is no doubt his nasty fight with Donald Trump is just getting started,” Sam Newton, DGA’s deputy communications director, said in a statement earlier this week. “Trump has already attacked and completely derailed the re-elections of other vulnerable GOP governors around the country — and it looks like DeSantis may be next.”

Trump recruited former Republican Georgia Sen. David Perdue to mount a primary challenge against GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who stoked Trump’s ire by not blocking Joe Biden’s win in that key swing state.

Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone has also repeatedly attacked DeSantis recently, comments Trump has not directly been associated with but has raised questions about Stone’s motivations.

“Gov. Ron DeSantis refuses to put his own presidential ambitions on hold until President Donald Trump has decided whether he wants to run again,” Stone said in a YouTube video earlier this week. “I consider that to be an incredible act of disloyalty and ingratitude.”

In November, DeSantis brushed off Stone, who at the time was threatening to run against him in 2022.

“Someone said he was going to run, but isn’t he a convicted felon?” DeSantis told Tampa’s Fox affiliate. “People are free to run, I think that’s totally fine, and I’m certainly not entitled to. I’ve got to earn it, but you cannot run if you’re a convicted felon.”

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