DeSantis’ Debate Prep Strategy: Don’t ‘Piss Off’ Trump Voters, 2018 Videos Reveal

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When he was running for governor of Florida in 2018, Ron DeSantis’ debate strategy was clear: don’t “piss off” Trump’s base. Video of the now-governor’s debate prep sessions reveals he was struggling to “find a way” to disagree with Trump “in a way that’s not going to piss off all his voters.”

The previously unreleased footage, obtained exclusively by ABC News and published Sunday, offers a peek into DeSantis’ thinking as he prepared to debate Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. The recordings may also offer insight into DeSantis’ strategy for taking on Trump should the governor enter the presidential race, as it is rumored he will.

“Is there any issue upon which you disagree with President Trump?” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asked DeSantis in one of the taped prep sessions in 2018.

“I have to figure out how to do this,” DeSantis said after letting out a long sigh. “Obviously there is, because I mean I voted contrary to him in the Congress. I have to frame it in a way that’s not going to piss off all his voters.”

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Continuing his thought, DeSantis said he would reply that he’d “do what I think is right” and “support [Trump’s] agenda.” He then added, “If I have a disagreement, I talk to him in private.”

The clips published by ABC came from almost two and a half hours of raw internal tapes that have not previously been made public. Since 2018, DeSantis’ rivalry with Trump has escalated, with the former president growing to loathe the governor for his “disloyal” challenges to Trump’s dominance in the GOP.

When asked on the tapes whether he would accept campaign funds from the National Rifle Association (NRA), DeSantis asked, “Has the NRA donated to me?” Later, he said, “I don’t think the NRA is quite the boogeyman the Democrats think it is.”

The tapes also show DeSantis struggling with presenting as likable. One advisor even recommended DeSantis write the word “LIKABLE” in all caps at the top of his pad of paper after he reached the podium on the night of the debate.

“I do the same thing, ’cause I have the same personality. We’re both aggressive,” the advisor said.

“You want to have that likable, dismissive tone, and not condescending,” someone tells DeSantis in a different moment in the video.

“Yeah, definitely,” DeSantis agreed.

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The now governor also offered his team feedback on some of their suggested “digs” at his opponent. “Some of the ones that are digs, I don’t think they work,” the governor said while off camera. “I think it makes me look like an asshole.”

According to former DeSantis staffers who have since joined Trump’s campaign, DeSantis is particularly “insecure” and “sensitive,” and that should make it easy for Trump to get into his head if they square off in the debates.

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