Former President Donald Trump is approaching Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with urgent new hostility, rushing to pit the Republican base against his most formidable potential rival in 2024.

Outside is «Ron DeSanctimonious,» Trump’s clumsy attempt at a nickname.

Public lashes on Trump’s Truth Social website branding DeSantis in terms that could repel Republican voters are becoming more frequent.

“GLOBALIST RINO”, Trump fume last week, using the pejorative acronym «Republican in name only.» On Tuesday, the aware twice a draw attention to a 2021 blog post from a site called The Hill Reporter, which allegedly featured a photo of DeSantis with several young women during his brief stint as a high school teacher more than 20 years ago. Trump’s posts questioned, without evidence, whether DeSantis was inappropriate with his students.

NBC News has not confirmed the authenticity of the image. DeSantis has not commented on the matter.

Trump, whose 2018 endorsement helped a then-underdog DeSantis advance from a primary and win the governorship, has also characterized his former ally as disloyal.

DeSantis, who has yet to launch a presidential campaign, has not engaged as directly or explicitly as Trump has. But he has begun to respond with his own thinly veiled insults.

When asked last week about the former president’s attacks on how he handled the Covid pandemic, DeSantis pointed to his own re-election victory, a less-than-subtle reminder that voters rejected Trump after one term.

At a press conference Wednesday, a reporter began to reference Trump’s posts in a question to DeSantis, but the governor cut him off, saying, «I understand you want controversy.»

He then offered another obvious jab at Trump.

“I spend my time delivering results for the people of Florida and fighting against [President] Joe Biden,” DeSantis said. «I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans.»

Many national surveys shows Trump, the only declared Republican candidate for the 2024 nomination, leading a hypothetically crowded Republican field, with DeSantis firmly established in second place. But vote published this week by the Club for Growth, a conservative organization that has tangled with Trump, showed DeSantis ahead of Trump in a head-to-head race. other recent survey in New Hampshire, which is scheduled to hold the first Republican primary, showed DeSantis leading in double digits over Trump and others.

DeSantis’s favorability rating is typically high among Republican respondents, including former Trump voters, in these polls. A Republican strategist close to Trump said the former president aims to define DeSantis quickly and neutralize what he recognizes as a threat.

“People who like Trump have not had an unfavorable view of DeSantis, because they see him as a Trump supporter,” said the strategist, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “So what happens when his favor starts to wane because of Trump’s attacks? Do we really think DeSantis will be in a stronger position than he is today? Because it’s clearly obvious to me that he has nowhere to go but down.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, is expected to launch a campaign for the Republican nomination next week. Several others, including Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, are also considering running. They would all compete with DeSantis for the votes of Republicans eager to get away from Trump.

DeSantis is not expected to decide on his candidacy until later this year, after the Florida legislative session ends. Several operatives from his 2022 re-election campaign remain in his political orbit, possibly poised to deploy for a White House bid or, in the meantime, a supportive super PAC that could help DeSantis absorb some of Trump’s blows by hitting back. to them on your behalf. .

A spokesman for DeSantis declined to comment Wednesday on Trump or the governor’s immediate political plans.

A Republican consultant with friends on both sides of the enormous rivalry wondered if Trump’s attacks would take away DeSantis’s message by stirring up the devoted fan base he has attracted online.

“People are looking for an arc or trajectory to Trump’s provocations,” said the consultant, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “But he’s more like a punching boxer to gauge his opponent’s reactions. DeSantis himself has clearly decided to stay out of the back and forth, but the reaction from his surrogates — and the overreaction — is telling. In the age of social media, a candidate simply can’t control how some of his most vocal supporters react, so it’s not possible to stay fully on message.»

For now though, DeSantis seems content with his not-so-subtle contrasts.

“DeSantis is clearly leaning towards [the narrative] that national Republicans have underperformed in recent years while he won a historic re-election in Florida,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on the 2016 presidential campaign of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. «Republicans want to win, and right now DeSantis looks like a winner.»