The fight has been simmering for months, but what really set it off was a Super Bowl tweet.
Alex Bruesewitz, a 25-year-old Trump-aligned GOP consultant, started a flame war with the DeSantis influencerverse when he tweeted an old photo appearing to show Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis drinking with 18-year-old high school girls during his teaching stint at the Darlington School in Georgia as a 23-year-old.
In a since-deleted tweet, right-wing pundit and Army Green Beret veteran Jim Hanson defended the governor, arguing that “partying with 18-year-old hotties” made him like DeSantis more.
With tensions already simmering between Trump loyalists and a new brigade of defectors behind DeSantis, the online animosity finally spilled over into real life over the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington.
Notably, DeSantis himself was absent, ditching the lightly attended Trump-loving confab for a speech with a TV-ready packed crowd at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. But many of his supporters were roaming the halls of CPAC in full force—so it was almost inevitable that a clash would ensue between supporters of Ronald and the Donald.
When DeSantisworld pundit John Cardillo was making his way through the media booths at CPAC, he found Bruesewitz.
Bruesewitz asked if Hanson, accompanied by his wife, was the “18-year-old hotties guy.” Cardillo interjected to warn Bruesewitz not to speak to Hanson like that in front of his wife.
Previous online grudges quickly resurfaced, including Bruesewitz tweeting photos of the Florida governor’s footwear to speculate that DeSantis has been using thicker boots to appear taller.
“You want a picture of his boots?” Hanson said at the beginning of a video from the tussle. “Do you understand what a Cuban boot is?”
“It’s weird, dude,” Cardillo then interjected. “He doesn’t know what boots are, we found that out.”
In the video, Cardillo then accused Bruesewitz of “stalking” and “harassing” him before Hanson declared: “You got nothing, dude?”
That, predictably, opened a whole separate can of worms, with Hanson telling the Trump consultant he isn’t “interesting” or “funny.”
“Expendable child soldier,” Cardillo chimed in, taking further aim at Bruesewitz.
As for Hanson, he declined to speak on the record for the story. “I don’t conduct intra-party squabbles on enemy media,” he told The Daily Beast when reached for comment. Likewise, Cardillo declined to comment on the record.
Bruesewitz’s lawyer, Joseph McBride—who was present during the hostile exchange at CPAC—claimed in a phone interview that his client began the interaction cordially before Cardillo, in a “very juvenile-like fashion, started coming at Alex, and then the other guy joined in.”
“It’s all fun and games, it’s just like people are trading barbs, obviously, you have people on the Trump side and you have people who are on the DeSantis side—healthy competition, nothing wrong with that,” McBride added.
As Trump and DeSantis inch closer to open war in the 2024 GOP primary, their camps have searched for useful lines of attack on issues like Social Security and COVID policies.
But the blow-up between their respective loyalists over tweets and boots at CPAC portends a fight that may get even more absurd and trivial than anyone thought possible.
Private conversations within Trumpworld about DeSantis suggest that plenty of new lows are still possible as the campaign heats up.
Just for starters, Trump confidants have been attempting to quantify DeSantis’ true Body Mass Index—the same metric that Trump obsessed over during his time in the White House. A reliable height and weight for the Florida governor has thus far evaded MAGA sleuths.
DeSantis is listed as 5’9”. The Florida governor recently photographed standing beside golf legends Tiger Woods, who is known to be 6’1”, and Rory McIlroy, who stands at 5’9’. In the photo, DeSantis appeared to be as tall as Woods. That has led to some speculation that, on top of heeled boots, DeSantis may be using height inserts inside his boots.
The fixation on boots is yet another feature of the Trump-DeSantis feud that spilled over from the online meme wars.
Inside Trump’s inner circle, those close to the former president have poked fun at a photo of DeSantis wearing tall white rubber boots while touring the damage left by Hurricane Ian last year. Since Trump’s trip to East Palestine, Ohio—where Trump wore a Timberland style boot—those in his inner circle have concluded that their boss has better taste in working men’s footwear.
“Donald Trump had work boots on. DeSantis had Dallas Cowboy cheerleader boots on,” a source close to Trump bragged to The Daily Beast, while also making the case that “Donald Trump reacts to disasters. Ron DeSantis hesitates.”
Further driving home Trumpworld’s fixation with DeSantis’ boots, as New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman noted on Monday evening, Trump associates have begun flagging mentions on the topic—even when that means sharing an article from a liberal website like Jezebel.
Those in DeSantis’ corner say the Florida governor is wearing a “Cuban-heeled” boot—which naturally is designed to feature an extended heel. Trumpworld operatives also argue that Ron’s fashion follies extend to the tailoring of his suits—an artform with which Trump has had his own struggles.
The entire feud—revolving around waistlines, boot heels, and height—is just the latest sign of a brewing Trump-DeSantis war. But the feud going from online to real life, even if it more closely resembled an elementary school recess argument than a fist fight, is the latest escalation.
“Why isn’t DeSantis vetting these people?” one seasoned Republican strategist told The Daily Beast, referring to Cardillo and Hanson.
Another GOP strategist said Bruesewitz made for an odd target, given both his age and the reputation of his consulting firm, which has business on both sides of the MAGA and GOP establishment divide.
“In a short time, Alex has built a strong business and become influential with MAGA warriors and GOP leadership,” the consultant said, requesting anonymity to avoid involving clients in the fracas.
“The 50-year-old guys like Cardillo in this video give massive Lincoln Project vibes,” this consultant added, referring to the NeverTrump political firm—a particularly stinging insult in today’s GOP.
One source who has spoken with Trump told The Daily Beast that in recent weeks the former president has privately weighed the idea of casting the Florida governor as “DeSoros,” one of a host of nicknames being floated behind the scenes.
Trump has also reportedly tested out the nickname “Tiny D.” While “Tiny D” hasn’t caught on among the MAGA faithful, attempts to paint DeSantis as a tool of Soros has, with Trump allies—including former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka—amplifying such a line of attack.
“There is no other candidate in history who has the energy and stamina President Trump has, and he will out-work and out-pace Joe Biden to Save America,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung told The Daily Beast when asked about the “DeSoros” nickname and Trump’s inner circle investigating DeSantis’ BMI.
While many GOP voters seem perfectly fine with a Trump-DeSantis feud—with the political chips falling as they may—this latest CPAC flare up does indicate just how personal the feelings are between the two sides’ foot soldiers.
As the longtime GOP strategist said, “What a dumpster fire.”