Trump and DeSantis Angle for Hard-Right Parents at Moms for Liberty Summit

4 minute read

Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rarely cross paths on the campaign trail, but on Friday they each addressed the same crowd in a bid to court hardcore conservatives. Appearing before the newest powerhouse in right-wing politics, their speeches reflected their competing strategies to win over the GOP’s fundamentalist faction, with DeSantis promising a more competent brand of governance that can better advance a far-right agenda, and Trump boasting how his Supreme Court picks were delivering some of the conservative movement’s most significant policy wins.

The two converged at a summit for Moms for Liberty, an organization that started as a fringe group three years ago but has quickly morphed into a dominant force in the GOP. The nonprofit gained increased currency on the right as the way racial and gender issues are taught has become a frontline issue for the party’s base. It now has more than 100,000 members in 45 states, making the confab an early cattle call for candidates vying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Without mentioning Trump’s name, DeSantis took a not-so-subtle swipe at his chief rival. “2024 is the time to put up or shut up,” he told the crowd. “No more excuses about why we can’t win against the left. No more excuses about why you didn’t do what you said you would do.” In that vein, DeSantis trumpeted his record as Florida governor as proof of concept for his efficacy as a chief executive: enacting the so-called Don’t Say Gay law that forbids the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, restricting the way public schools can teach racial issues, and prohibiting children’s access to gender transition treatments.

Without mentioning DeSantis’s name, Trump struck back at the insinuation in his remarks hours later. The former President basked in the glory of Supreme Court rulings this week that curtailed affirmative action in college admissions, struck down President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, and allowed a Colorado graphic designer to refuse service to same-sex couples planning to marry. “Many presidents never get the opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice. I had three. They are gold,” he said, referring to Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. “Maybe we’ll get three or four more. Can you imagine?”

More from TIME

Trump also made an unusual plea for a Republican candidate in front of a hard-right audience: Don’t alienate too many voters with extreme rhetoric on abortion.

While taking credit for the Supreme Court decision last year that ended a constitutional right to the procedure by overturning Roe v. Wade, Trump suggested that overly restrictive proposals could hurt Republicans in the upcoming elections. “By getting rid of Roe v Wade, we’ve given tremendous negotiating power to the pro-lifers,” he said. “They didn’t have any negotiating power at all. So this was an amazing thing. But the Republicans are gonna have to learn how to speak on the subject. Because if they don’t, maybe they’re not going to get the kind of votes they should get.”

In January, Trump wrote on social media that abortion cost the GOP gains in the 2022 midterms, especially hampering Republicans who opposed exceptions for rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk. That marks a contrast to DeSantis, who signed a six-week abortion ban into law in April. The policy choice led to a war of words between the two. Trump has criticized him for the measure, calling it “harsh.” DeSantis, in response, has accused Trump of going “too soft” on abortion.

The candidates’ appearance at the Moms for Liberty gathering was controversial. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the organization an extremist group that spreads anti-LGBTQ misinformation and vitriol. More than 100 protesters showed up outside the Philadelphia venue on Friday, according to the Associated Press, with the demonstrators chanting “Not in our city” and “Let’s say gay.”

Trump and DeSantis were not the only GOP presidential hopefuls to address the confab. Nikki Haley, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, also spoke on Friday, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy are scheduled to speak there on Saturday.

The latest polling has Trump as the clear frontrunner, with a 38 percent lead nationally over DeSantis, his closest competitor for the Republican nomination.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at