Trump Campaign Recycles Misleading Attack Ad Accusing DeSantis of Backing Tax Hike

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The Trump campaign released a misleading attack ad on Friday accusing Governor Ron DeSantis of supporting a tax hike during his time in Congress.

© Brian Snyder/Reuters
Former president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Manchester, N.H., April 27, 2023.

The ad alleges that while in Congress, DeSantis backed a 23 percent national sales tax affecting a laundry list of goods and activities but leaves out the fact that the sales tax was part of a broader flat tax proposal that would have eliminated federal income tax entirely. Trump’s team recycled the distorted claim about DeSantis’s record, which was originally leveled by DeSantis’s 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary opponent Adam Putnam.

“Ron DeSalestax had a plan, to make you pay more,” says the narrator in the Maga War Room ad. “We can’t afford Ron DeSalestax. We have a better choice. President Trump passed massive tax cuts, lowering tax rates for everyone.”

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While representing Florida’s 6th District in 2013, 2015, and 2017, DeSantis co-sponsored the Fair Tax Act which introduced a 23 percent federal sales tax in exchange for eliminating all other federal taxes, including on income. The proposal was popular among principled prominent conservatives, namely Mike Pence and Mike Huckabee, left-leaning Politifact noted in its 2018 fact check.

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“In Congress, the governor supported the concept of a Fair Tax, a plan to lower the overall tax burden on an individual by replacing all federal taxes–including income tax–with a lower tax,” DeSantis political team press secretary Bryan Griffin said in a statement provided to National Review. “The plan also sought to end the IRS which, at the time, was being weaponized by the Obama administration. To describe only part of the plan in an attack is dishonest.”

Florida’s favorable tax climate under DeSantis’ leadership, including the lack of a state income tax and other relief, has invited a record number of blue state transplants, including Trump himself, who in 2019 announced his migration from New York to the Sunshine State.

“My family and I will be making Palm Beach, Florida, our Permanent Residence. I cherish New York, and the people of New York, and always will, but unfortunately, despite the fact that I pay millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year, I have been treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state,” he tweeted at the time.

Never Back Down, a PAC supporting DeSantis, released a video on Friday showing then-president Trump favorably referencing the Fair Tax, which became the subject of his campaign’s latest attack on DeSantis.

DeSantis in 2022 signed the largest tax-relief package in Florida history, granting over $1.2 billion to Florida’s families and in 2023 exceeded that by securing a record $2.7 billion in tax relief, Griffin said. The governor also instituted a permanent sales-tax exemption for baby items, established back to school and 4th of July tax holidays, and provided $500 million in toll relief.

In its Friday ad, Trump’s team appears to have borrowed directly from Putnam’s playbook, which failed to prevent DeSantis from landing the GOP nomination.

“What would a 23% sales tax do to Florida’s economy? If Congressman DeSantis had his way, everything would cost 23% more — groceries, gas, home purchases,” said the narrator in Putnam’s ad. “Congressman DeSantis sponsored legislation to increase sales taxes by 23%, hurting families, destroying jobs, devastating tourism.”

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This is the second time the Trump-aligned PAC has twisted DeSantis’ congressional voting history. In March, MAGA Inc. launched a 30-second television ad blasting DeSantis’s record of advocating for cuts to Social Security and Medicare — despite the former president’s own record of backing similar cuts.

“Think you know Ron DeSantis?” the MAGA Inc., ad said. “Think again. In Congress, DeSantis voted three separate times to cut Social Security. Worse? DeSantis voted to cut medicare two times.”

Trump’s 2020 budget proposal included cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, with an aim to spend $25 billion less on Social Security in the next decade and $845 billion less on Medicare over that same period of time. Also during the 2018 Florida gubernatorial primary cycle, Putnam targeted DeSantis’s entitlement record in a way that Politifact again deemed misleading. DeSantis voted for non-binding budget resolutions that, even if adopted, would not have changed federal law and would not have therefore cut benefits for any Americans.

DeSantis is widely expected to jump into the 2024 presidential primary next week.

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