Former President Donald Trump is continuing to attack Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his closest — though still fairly distant — rival in the polls amid an increasingly crowded Republican presidential primary field. On Tuesday evening, Trump’s campaign blasted out a press release that claimed DeSantis had “blatantly” plagiarized the former president’s 2020 State of the Union address. The accusation hinged on a single phrase: the “great American comeback.”
However, despite Trump’s protestations, that verbiage has been extremely common in politics over the past few decades, including being featured prominently in President Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union address in 1986 and being used repeatedly by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.
“Amid a catastrophic failure to launch, Ron DeSantis announced his candidacy with ‘Great American Comeback,’ a phrase stolen from President Donald J. Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address,” the Trump campaign statement said. “Perhaps, the DeSantis communications staff was pre-occupied attempting to extinguish the flames of their candidate’s announcement to come up with their own message.”
The statement included a clip of DeSantis’ YouTube announcement video, which he released on May 24 in conjunction with his glitchy Twitter campaign launch. In his video, DeSantis declared, “I’m running for president to lead our great American comeback.” Trump’s team juxtaposed that line with the former president’s 2020 State of the Union wherein he boasted, “Three years ago we launched the great American comeback. Tonight I stand before you to share the incredible results.”
A quick LexisNexis search shows over 480 pages of results for the phrase “great American comeback” starting with Reagan’s fifth State of the Union speech in 1986. In that address, which was delayed by the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle, Reagan bragged about “37 straight months of economic growth” and falling interest rates before chalking it all up to conservative values.
”Family and community remain the moral core of our society, guardians of our values and hopes for the future,” Reagan said. ”Family and community are the co-stars of this great American comeback.”
Following Reagan’s speech, the search results show the phrase became rather common. It was used in news stories to refer to everything from tennis matches, to golf tournaments, the Hubble space telescope, and reptile species that were on the rebound.
In more recent years, the phrase “great American comeback” has regularly been used by politicians of both parties, including the former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, the former commissioner of Charlotte County in Florida, and in multiple congressional campaigns. As a congressman, the current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy used it on multiple occasions to tout Republican legislative priorities during the 2010’s. Conservative pundit Monica Crowley (whose work Trump happens to have been sharing on his “Truth” social network in the past 24 hours, published a book in 2012 entitled “What the (Bleep) Just Happened?: The Happy Warrior’s Guide to the Great American Comeback.”
Both the Trump and DeSantis campaigns did not respond to requests for comment on this story. While the pair are currently leading polls of the GOP presidential candidates, Trump has maintained a lead in recent weeks by, on average, about 30 points. The former president also dealt with a crowded primary when he was elected in 2016. During that race, Trump deployed a strategy where he generally targeted one of his rivals at a time for blistering attacks as he winnowed down the field. For the moment, DeSantis seems to be the opponent who has most of Trump’s focus.
Following the plagiarism accusation, Trump took multiple other shots at DeSantis on Truth Social Wednesday morning. Trump, who has been trying out different nicknames for the Florida governor, indicated he plans to attack DeSantis during an upcoming campaign swing to Iowa. Along with being one of the first GOP primary states, Iowa is also “first in the nation” when it comes to ethanol production, which is a large and influential industry there.
“Will be heading to the Great State of Iowa this afternoon for two days,” Trump wrote. “I strongly defended and backed Ethanol, Ron ‘DeSaster’ has ALWAYS been strongly against Ethanol.”