While a number of senior Republicans – among them Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell – have criticised the former president for meeting with Nick Fuentes, and Kanye West, both of whom have been accused of expressing racist and antisemitic views, Mr DeSantis has let it be known to his top aides not to weigh in.
Yet the report in Rolling Stone says the decision by the 44-year-old Mr DeSantis, who recently stormed to reelection with a 20-point margin, has nothing to do with helping Mr Trump, who last month announced his third bid for the presidency.
Rather, Mr DeSantis, believed to be considering his own run to become Republican nominee in 2024 and possibly confront Mr Trump in the primary, has calculated the media focus on the story will damage the former president, without the Florida governor using up his political capital, or potentially angering Republicans whose support he would need in any presidential run.
“In ongoing discussions following his reelection, including this week, I’ve been asked to keep my powder dry,” Dan Eberhart, a longtime GOP donor and formerly a major backer of Mr Trump, told the magazine.
“My understanding is that the DeSantis team doesn’t see upside in kicking off the fight with Trump this early, even if it may be inevitable. Wading into the Fuentes fiasco just isn’t worth it for them.”
Mr Eberhart, who is now backing Mr DeSantis, added: “The media will harpoon Trump without Team DeSantis lifting a finger.”
Mr Trump has sought to brush off the controversy over the visit to Mar-a-Lago of the 24-year Mr Fuentes, a very popular livestreamer and YouTuber who often expresses views that are racist and antisemitic. He was accompanied by West, who has said several times he is suffering from mental health issues.
“I had never heard of the man,” Mr Trump told Fox News, of Mr Fuentes. “I had no idea what his views were, and they weren’t expressed at the table in our very quick dinner, or it wouldn’t have been accepted.”
The former president added that West, who has changed his name to Ye wanted to speak with him for “advice”, saying he had heard the artist and supporter had “had difficulties, including financial difficulties”.
Other Republicans have attacked Mr Trump’s decision to meet with Mr Fuentes, who has been a leading voice in the so-called “Stop the Steal” moment, and who attended the now notorious far right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
“There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said: “I don’t think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes. He has no place in this Republican Party. I think President Trump came out four times and condemned him and didn’t know who he was.”
Former vice president Mike Pence, who is another possible challenger in 2024, voiced a similar criticism.
“Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and Holocaust denier a seat at the table,” Mr Pence said.
“And I think he should apologise for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”