Is 2024 GOP primary candidate Ron DeSantis using unfair tactics to try and close the gap between himself and frontrunner Donald Trump?
Some conservative voices on social media certainly think so — despite Team Trump slinging some deepfake mud themselves not that long ago.
This particular controversy began on Twitter when the DeSantis War Room Twitter account posted a video that launched something of an attack ad against Trump:
Donald Trump became a household name by FIRING countless people *on television*
But when it came to Fauci… pic.twitter.com/7Lxwf75NQm
— DeSantis War Room 🐊 (@DeSantisWarRoom) June 5, 2023
A quick look at the comments and retweets showed that Trump supporters were not particularly thrilled with the video.
The ad essentially drew attention to Trump’s on-air persona (characterized by his catchphrase from the reality television series “The Apprentice,” which was “You’re fired”) drastically differing from his “real life” self.
Many conservatives have felt that, despite the tough guy bravado, Trump was unable to flex those same muscles when it came to dealing with Dr. Anthony Fauci and the general response to COVID that his administration oversaw.
I’m not playing anything “down the middle”. You should listen to my show. I’ve spoken quite honestly about my intention to vote for DeSantis now in the primary as Donald Trump cannot stop bragging about COVID lockdowns and the clot shot. Still like them both though. https://t.co/SJMsBA5SEz
— Jesse Kelly (@JesseKellyDC) May 20, 2023
Do you think DeSantis made a dirty campaign move?
Yes: 86% (6 Votes)
No: 14% (1 Votes)
That’s a fair criticism of Trump! You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether Trump or DeSantis handled their respective COVID response better, but it’s inarguable that Trump could’ve done a better job at handling the pandemic.
At the very least, Trump really should’ve given Fauci the “Apprentice” treatment with a cold and calculated, “You’re fired.”
But the way in which Team DeSantis went about making that salient point left a little to be desired. During the attack ad, you see images of Trump hugging and kissing Fauci.
There’s no two ways around it: Three of those images are fake images generated by artificial intelligence.
It’s a gross, slimy and dishonest move.
It’s also one employed by Team Trump just a few weeks ago.
Take a look at this edited photo that purports to show Democrat megadonor George Soros at a DeSantis event:
No disrespect to DeSantis supporters but don’t u think it’s odd that George Soros is right there supporting the meatball? pic.twitter.com/le0PuFWys8
— Democrats cheated through election (@ThroughCheated) May 26, 2023
Here’s the actual photo for comparison:
Just had a great chat with @RonDeSantis where he told me, laughing, “I haven’t spoken to Paul Ryan since I was elected governor, and I’ve met Karl Rove once.”
Ryan/Rove collaboration is a completely false narrative fabricated by Team Trump out of desperation. pic.twitter.com/J0MgdC0tJ9
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) May 26, 2023
The rise of AI is dangerous, period, and using it to push fake imagery, especially in what will already be a bloody and bruising GOP primary season, is irresponsible at best, regardless of whether you’re a Trump or DeSantis supporter.
Now, it does need to be noted that even a cursory search for Trump and Fauci from reputable image sources yields plenty of images of the former president being plenty warm and friendly with the polarizing doctor. The core criticism of the DeSantis attack ad remains true.
If there’s a criticism to be had, it should be hurled at the lazy intern or editor who slapped together that particular segment of the otherwise accurate attack ad, which almost assuredly involved little more than a Google image search.
But it really doesn’t matter who did what first when everyone is hurling mud in a pig pen anyhow.
Disconcertingly, this controversy illustrates just how ugly this GOP primary season has the chance to be.
Because here are some statements of fact that can both be true, despite what the tribalists may screech at the top of their lungs:
- Donald Trump was a great president whose catastrophic response to COVID is a genuine stain on an otherwise sterling presidency.
- Ron DeSantis could be a good president given his laundry list of accomplishments as governor, but is completely unproven and clearly needs to rein his team after this deepfake debacle.
The political fanboys of the world would somehow try to tell you that Trump handled COVID well (he didn’t) and that DeSantis using deepfakes is no big deal (it is).
It’s beginning to feel like if Trump supporters saw DeSantis walking on water, the first thing they would point out is that he can’t swim. Same goes true for DeSantis’ most zealous supporters.
That sort of ignorant discourse does nobody any good, especially if that toxicity drives prospective Trump/DeSantis voters to not vote for the other should their preferred candidate not win. If that sounds like a dream scenario for Democrats, that’s because it is.
Trump and DeSantis both have positives (they obviously both have negatives, as does every other human on God’s green Earth) and that should be the focus of all Republicans. Either one of them would assuredly be demonstrably better than Joe Biden, who literally struggles staying upright at times.
But neither Trump nor DeSantis will have a chance to prove that should their supporters insist on this insipid and toxic sniping.
And to be clear, there should be some arguing and bickering between Trump and DeSantis supporters. Iron sharpens iron, after all, and having those two men test each other (without crossing any lines) will indeed produce the best GOP candidate for 2024 and beyond.
Republicans need to come together to defeat Democrats, not pick at and smear each other to the point where the opposition simply can’t stomach voting for the other.
Because I would hope, perhaps against hope, that no matter who becomes the GOP 2024 presidential nominee, both Trump and DeSantis supporters will be able to embrace that candidate.
It’ll never happen if this infighting keeps getting dumber and more toxic by the second.