“He traveled on Epstein’s Lolita Express”: Trump’s “groomer” attack on DeSantis backfires with MAGA

"Trump lied about the number of times he traveled on that plane," tweeted former Trump booster Ian Miles Cheong

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published February 8, 2023 12:07PM (EST)

Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of engaging in "grooming" behavior in his latest attack against his top rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

The former president on Truth Social Tuesday reposted a post accusing DeSantis of drinking alcohol with minors when he was a high school teacher. 

"That's not Ron, is it? He would never do such a thing!" Trump wrote sarcastically.

The picture shows a 23-year-old DeSantis standing and smiling between three women with blurred-out faces.

One of the women in the photos is holding a brown glass bottle but DeSantis isn't pictured drinking. The caption on the post reads, "Here is Ron DeSantimonious grooming high school girls with alcohol as a teacher," followed by the vomit emoji.  

The original message Trump reshared was from a user named Dong-Chan Lee, whose account describes him as a "paleoconservative" and Trump supporter.

In another repost, Trump added more sarcastic commentary, writing "No way?" while Dong-Chan Lee's caption read "Ron DeSantis was having a 'drink' party with his students when he was a high school teacher. Having drinks with underage girls and cuddling with them certainly look [sic] pretty gross and ephebophiliaesque."

The first time this photo of DeSantis appeared online was last year after Hill Reporter – a Democratic super PAC blog – posted it.

The photo was taken after the 2001-02 academic year that DeSantis spent as a teacher at the elite Darlington School before attending Harvard Law School, according to The New York Times

Darlington is a boarding school located in Rome, Georgia, where DeSantis coached baseball and football and taught history and government, the Times reported. 

Several students recalled DeSantis going to parties with the seniors, the New York Times reported, citing anonymous sources. Two students recalled DeSantis attending at least two parties where alcohol was served after graduation. 

The students reported not being bothered by his attendance but now question it, the report said.

Some of his former students also described him as a "total jock" who partied with students and thought it was "very special" that he graduated from Yale.

Two other students remembered a prank that involved DeSantis challenging a student, who had bragged about how much milk he could drink, to guzzle as much milk as he could in one sitting. The student did and ended up throwing up while dozens of other students watched. 

"I think about it, now — I'm a teacher now in public school," Adam Moody, who witnessed the incident told the Times. "I put myself in that moment, and it's just unthinkable. There's a cruelty to the sense of humor. There's a cruelty to the mentorship."

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Trump's "grooming" accusation against DeSantis suggested hypocrisy on the part of the Florida governor, whose staff has accused LGBTQ people as well as those who oppose his "Don't Say Gay" bill of "grooming." 

Ahead of the gubernatorial election, Trump nicknamed DeSantis "DeSanctimonious," and said it was "disloyal" for the governor to leave open the question of running for president given that Trump's 2018 gubernatorial endorsement helped him win his first election. 

But Trump's attack drew backlash from some of his longtime supporters, many of whom are looking to back DeSantis in 2024.

"Trump is falsely accusing DeSantis of pedophilia," tweeted right-wing commentator Ian Miles Cheong. "It is only fair to point out the fact that he traveled on Epstein's Lolita Express seven times. It is also fair to point out that Trump lied about the number of times he traveled on that plane."

DeSantis, who has yet to announce whether he is running for president, has largely ignored Trump's attacks but hit back after the latest jab.

"I'd just say this: I spend my time delivering results for the people of Florida and fighting against Joe Biden," he told reporters. "I don't spend my time trying to smear other Republicans."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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