In wake of indictments and with Ron DeSantis focused on condo collapse, Donald Trump holds Florida rally

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Facing a fraught time, Donald Trump spent a Saturday night rally in Florida denouncing indictments of his company on tax fraud charges, while saying nothing about a looming political rivalry with the state's governor, Ron DeSantis.

The ex-president told supporters in Sarasota that prosecutors in New York City are the latest in a string of investigators who are trying to stop his political movement with probes that have included Russian election interference, two impeachments, and now taxes.

"Solely because of politics, they want to do things to hurt us," Trump said.

Trump also praised various Florida Republicans in the crowd, but one prominent lawmakers was not in attendance: DeSantis, who is monitoring recovery from the collapse of a 12-story condominium building in Surfside, near Miami, that killed at least 24 people and left more than 120 still missing.

The rally in Florida, a state Trump won twice, came as some Republicans are already talking about the 2024 presidential race – and expressing support for DeSantis rather than Trump. DeSantis has scored well in early straw polls conducted at high-profile meetings, the Conservative Political Action Conference and the Western Conservative Summit.

The Florida governor spoke recently with Trump, who agreed it was the right decision not to attend the rally, said DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw: "The Governor’s duty is to be in Surfside making sure the families and community have what they need in the aftermath of this tragedy."

The governor's office also disputed reports that it asked Trump organizers to postpone the Sarasota rally in the wake of the building collapse near Miami.

President Donald Trump stands behind Ron DeSantis, Candidate for Governor of Florida, as he speaks at a rally, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Pensacola, Fla.
President Donald Trump stands behind Ron DeSantis, Candidate for Governor of Florida, as he speaks at a rally, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Pensacola, Fla.

Beyond the criticism of the New York indictments, Trump fed rallygoers familiar political riffs: Protests of his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, attacks on the Biden administration over illegal immigration and economic policy, defenses of his much-criticized COVID-19 response, and claims that Trump-backed Republicans will win control of Congress in next year's elections.

"We're going to show 'em," Trump said.

Trump also suggested, as he does frequently, that he might seek the presidency again in 2024, even as other Republicans ponder their own presidential bids.

DeSantis and his aides in Florida have discouraged talk about the 2024 presidential race, saying he is currently focused on his current job ahead of his re-election bid next year.

"The governor has a great relationship with the president," said Helen Aguirre Ferre, executive director of the Florida Republican Party and a former communications director for DeSantis. "He's always had a great relationship with the president. That's not going to change."

More: Trump's Sarasota rally still on despite report DeSantis wants it canceled due to Surfside

More: Trump's longtime financial chief, confidant indicted. Who is Allen Weisselberg?

2024 presidential race right around the corner

Trump has expressed some annoyance at DeSantis' political rise.

In interviews, Trump has sought to assert his party dominance by saying he would consider the Florida governor as a potential running mate. He has also taken credit for DeSantis' success, saying his endorsement enabled the then-congressman to win the Florida Republican primary for governor in 2018.

“I was at the beginning of Ron,” Trump told the Fox Business Network last month.

Trump's representatives declined to discuss any differences with DeSantis in the run-up to the Sarasota rally, issuing only a statement saying they never planned to postpone the event in the wake of the building collapse on the other side of the state.

Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington noted Sarasota is three-and-a-half hours driving time away from the Miami area, and the rally will not affect recovery efforts at Surfside. During the rally, Trump asked his supporters to observe a moment of silence for the victims of the collapse.

"Like all Americans, President Trump sends his deepest condolences to those who've lost loved ones or been displaced by the terrible tragedy in Surfside," Harrington said.

With DeSantis facing a re-election bid just next year, Democrats are looking to exploit divisions between the governor and the former president. A political action committee called Remove Ron put up an ad this week poking Trump over GOP support for his supposed protege.

Potentially seeking to turn Trump – and some of his supporters – against DeSantis, the voiceover on the ad addressed Trump directly by saying he took a "rookie congressman" and made him governor of the nation's third most populous state.

"Now Ron's beating you in the race for president," the ad said.

Indictment of Trump Organization and CFO loom over rally

Out of office for little more than five months, Trump has already begun to resume political rallies, beginning with a June 26 event in northern Ohio.

Saturday's rally was a homecoming of sorts for the former president. His Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, is closed for the summer, so Trump is currently living at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

The Sarasota event also took place just days after prosecutors unveiled indictments of the Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg, the company's longtime chief financial officer. Weisselberg, accused of collecting more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation as part of a company-sanctioned scheme to avoid taxes, pleaded not guilty.

More: Donald Trump tells Ohio rally he's 'trying to save American democracy'

Trump, who remains under investigation, denounced the charges as politically motivated, and argued that his corporation is being singled out for things that many companies do regarding fringe benefits and taxation.

"It's a terrible, terrible thing," Trump said of the investigation.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump holds Florida rally amid indictments, Surfside collapse