Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign shared a provocative video on Friday attacking the record of former President Donald J. Trump regarding L.G.B.T.Q. people that was widely condemned as homophobic, including by a prominent group representing gay and lesbian Republicans.
The video, posted on Twitter by the “DeSantis War Room” account, opens by showing Mr. Trump proclaiming, “I will do everything in my power to protect our L.G.B.T.Q. citizens.” Mr. Trump made those remarks at the Republican National Convention in July 2016, after invoking the horror of the Pulse nightclub shooting the previous month. The massacre, at a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, in Mr. DeSantis’s home state of Florida, left 49 people dead.
The video goes on to show Mr. Trump expressing support for transgender people using the bathrooms of their choice. It then attempts to contrast Mr. Trump’s position with the hard-line stance of Mr. DeSantis, abruptly transitioning into a jarring series of images of Mr. DeSantis (including one with lasers shooting out of his eyes) that are interspersed with right-wing internet memes (the smiling, heavily muscled man known online as “GigaChad”), news headlines (“Pride event in St. Cloud canceled after DeSantis signs ‘Protection of Children Act’ into law”) and pop culture references (among them shots of the titular character from the film version of the serial killer narrative “American Psycho”).
Mr. DeSantis has frequently cast himself as a lightning rod for unfair criticism by liberals and has used such attacks to rally support from his political base. The video, compiled by another Twitter user, seemed intended, in part, to attract more liberal outrage at a time when he is struggling to gain traction in polls against Mr. Trump.
It was the type of move — devised to provoke a reaction — that Mr. Trump often deployed from his Twitter account during the 2016 campaign.
Earlier in his career, as a congressman, Mr. DeSantis did not seem consumed by combating the L.G.B.T.Q. community. At the time, he privately told a counterpart he didn’t care about people’s sexuality.
And when he first ran for governor five years ago, Mr. DeSantis suggested he would take a more moderate approach on some L.G.B.T.Q. rights issues, saying that Republicans needed to move beyond debating which bathrooms transgender people should use. “Getting into bathroom wars, I don’t think that’s a good use of our time,” he said at a Republican candidate forum in 2018.
But in this campaign for the Republican nomination, Mr. DeSantis has sought to highlight — and expand — his ultraconservative credentials in an effort to position himself to the right of his chief rival.
The new video drew criticism not only from Democrats but also from some in his own party, including the Log Cabin Republicans, which describes itself as the nation’s largest organization for “L.G.B.T. conservatives and allies.” The group, which endorsed Mr. Trump in 2019 and has used his Mar-a-Lago club for events, called the video “divisive and desperate” and said it “ventured into homophobic territory.”
Sarah Longwell, a moderate Republican political strategist, wrote on Twitter: “The consultants who think this kind of ‘running to Trump’s right’ is going to be effective should be sacked.” And Adam Kinzinger, a former Republican congressman and Trump critic, said, “Outrage after outrage is the only way these guys know how to campaign.”
Mr. DeSantis’s campaign shared the video on Twitter with the text: “To wrap up ‘Pride Month,’ let’s hear from the politician who did more than any other Republican to celebrate it,” referring to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump, who grew up in liberal New York and was a businessman for decades, was seen during his 2016 campaign by some Republicans as more open to the L.G.B.T.Q. community. But he also chose Mike Pence, then the governor of Indiana and a staunch conservative who had signed into a law a religious freedom act that was seen as hostile to L.G.B.T.Q. people, as his running mate. As president, Mr. Trump systematically dismantled L.G.B.T.Q. protections put into effect by President Barack Obama, particularly those concerning transgender people.
The video shared by the DeSantis campaign reflects a race to the right on a number of issues in the primary. In Florida, Mr. DeSantis has signed bills restricting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, punishing businesses that admit minors to “adult live performances” such as drag shows and making it a misdemeanor trespassing offense for people to use bathrooms in public buildings that do not correspond to their sex at birth.
And with its barrage of references to obscure right-wing memes, the video also shows how heavily Mr. DeSantis’s campaign has leaned into the brash and provocative parlance of fringe online conservatives. The Florida governor, who is running well behind Mr. Trump in national polls, signaled from the beginning of his campaign that he hoped to connect with right-wing voters online, including by announcing his candidacy in a glitchy livestream event on Twitter with Elon Musk.
But by openly courting such insular conservative communities, Mr. DeSantis, who has told donors that he is the only Republican who can beat President Biden, may risk alienating the more moderate voters he will most likely need in a general election.
The video also risks putting off some Republican donors, some of whom are more moderate on issues like L.G.B.T.Q. rights and are watching to see how Mr. DeSantis progresses before committing to his candidacy.
In addition to implicitly comparing Mr. DeSantis to Christian Bale’s homicidal character in “American Psycho,” who in the book is a mega-fan of then-businessman Donald J. Trump, the video — set to a thrumming bass — without much explanation also highlights Leonardo DiCaprio’s role as a hedonistic, drug-addicted financial fraudster in the film “The Wolf of Wall Street,” as well as Brad Pitt’s depiction of Achilles in “Troy.” (Achilles, the hero of “The Iliad,” was often portrayed in later Classical Greek literature as the lover of his male companion, Patroclus.)
For his part, Mr. Trump noted last month, sounding pleased, that the issue of limiting rights for transgender people had become a major animating force for conservative Republican voters.
“It’s amazing how strongly people feel about that,” Mr. Trump said during a speech in North Carolina in June. “I talk about transgender, everybody goes crazy. Five years ago, you didn’t know what the hell it was.”