The political slugfest between former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has intensified. Trump has assailed DeSantis on a broad range of matters, criticizing his pandemic policy, his stance against Disney, and even his name pronunciation. In retaliation, DeSantis has labeled Trump as overly liberal on cultural matters, criticized his handling of immigration and crime, and questioned his ability to effectively manage his administration.
What’s being missed: Trump ran in 2016 on “fair trade” as an alternative to unrestricted free trade that shipped jobs to China. As a congressman, DeSantis voted in favor of granting then-President Barack Obama the ability to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a globalized free trade deal that Obama hailed as “the most progressive trade deal in history.” During his 2016 run for the White House, Trump opposed TPP as the “greatest danger yet” to American manufacturing and ultimately killed it during his presidency. Trump has yet to criticize DeSantis over his congressional vote.
In his recent book, DeSantis hinted that he had changed his perspective on foreign policy and modeled it on Trump’s “America First” agenda. He derided the neoconservative push for endless war during previous Republican administrations and took a hawkish stance toward China. Even so, he has had little to say on how he would handle trade policy. Amid Trump's tariff fight with China in 2018, DeSantis told Fox Business that “I’m not somebody that advocates tariffs. I mean, I want to have lower barriers, and I want to have free trade.”
DeSantis's response to the COVID pandemic and his strong track record of victories in the culture war—ranging from education to corporate wokeness—has bolstered his standing within the GOP. However, his trade policy expertise remains untested, whereas Trump has proven his popularity in prioritizing American manufacturing and ending wars. While DeSantis’s tenure as governor has allowed him to reshape his legacy since his time in Congress, it seems he hasn’t yet developed a strong trade or foreign policy agenda.