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DeSantis plays up fight with House speaker after McCarthy said he is "not on the same level" as Trump

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has found a new political opponent in Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, after the speaker said DeSantis is "not on the same level" as former President Donald Trump. 

The back-and-forth between the two Republicans comes as McCarthy is locked in a battle to rally his caucus behind a bill, known as a "continuing resolution," to extend funding for the government through October 31. Government operations are currently only funded until the end of September, when the fiscal year ends, and if Congress doesn't act, the government will partially shutdown on October 1. 

Meanwhile, DeSantis has been trying to make a dent in Trump's persistent double-digit lead in the polls, by taking aim at government spending during Trump's White House tenure and at his stance on abortion. 

The discord between DeSantis and McCarthy stems from the governor's relationships with and recent conversations with conservative House Republicans who opposed McCarthy's proposed government spending deal.

Last week, DeSantis spoke over the phone with Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Bob Good of Virginia and encouraged them to "keep fighting," according to Politico. Since then, Roy helped craft the stopgap bill, and on Tuesday called for House Republicans to "unite" around passing it. Good has said he still opposes the continuing resolution. 

After DeSantis' conversation with these House Republicans came up during an interview Sunday with Fox News, McCarthy predicted Trump would win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination and criticized DeSantis' campaign. McCarthy has not endorsed any 2024 presidential candidate yet. 

"President Trump is beating Biden right now in the polls. He is stronger than he has ever been in this process, and, look, I served with Ron DeSantis – he's not at the same level as President Trump by any shape or form. He would not have gotten elected without President Trump's endorsement," McCarthy said, in reference to DeSantis' first bid for Florida governor in 2018. 

DeSantis served in Congress from 2013 to 2018, where he was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, a far-right group that mostly opposes McCarthy on the stopgap spending bill. 

DeSantis has mostly been attacking McCarthy at the same time he brings up Trump. In a Fox Business interview Tuesday, DeSantis was asked for a response to McCarthy's comments. He responded that both Trump and the speaker have "added trillions and trillions of dollars to the debt — even when we had a unified Republican government." 

During a press conference in Jacksonville, Florida, Monday, DeSantis disparaged McCarthy as a "D.C. establishment" figure and cast doubt on whether McCarthy would have won the speakership without Trump's assistance. He also repeatedly mentioned that the 2022 Republican congressional wins in Florida were "instrumental" in securing the House majority for Republicans. 

In 2022, DeSantis pushed a gerrymandered map through Florida's legislature that eventually netted Republicans four more U.S. House seats. A state judge ruled the map unconstitutional and ordered it to be redrawn earlier this month. 

"I'm not somebody who's ever going to be the favorite of the D.C. establishment, and you know what? I wear that as a badge of honor," DeSantis said Monday. 

His campaign shared his comments widely, posting videos critical of federal spending and sending an email Tuesday claiming DeSantis "is different from the establishment Republicans and Democrats who have spent irresponsibly to create today's inflation."

A representative for McCarthy has not responded to a request for comment.

DeSantis supporters think his fight with McCarthy, a Trump ally, is a good one to have. 

Justin Sayfie, a veteran GOP strategist who is fundraising for DeSantis, said the disagreements with McCarthy will help DeSantis identify with the grassroots base of the Republican Party against more federal spending, and "implicitly challenge President Trump to do the same."

Steve Deace, an influential Iowa talk-show host who endorsed DeSantis agrees. "Anytime DeSantis can clash with the GOP establishment it can only help," he said.

"The truth is McCarthy is only speaker because of Trump, who, while claiming to be an outsider, has backed every existing meaningful GOP establishment figure at some point. DeSantis should more directly link the two," he added. 

Trump has led DeSantis by big numbers in national and early state presidential primary polls – an August CBS News national poll has Trump up by 46 points, while an early September Emerson College poll of Iowa voters has DeSantis up 35 points. 

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