DeSantis may have missed his chance to make the Republicans primary over him and Trump
The November 2022 political theories saw Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis purge the Republican presidential primary field of non-Donald Trump opposition and instigated a one-on-one battle against a former president whose iron-hold on Republicans could be broken over legal troubles electoral losses.
The political reality of May 2023 is preparing DeSantis to enter a primary field that is growing rather than shrinking, with Trump back at the top of the polls and candidates just as eager to poach DeSantis’ conservative media frenzy and big funders, how they plan to steal Trump’s base of support.
DeSantis’ official campaign launch is expected in the coming days. Not to mention he’s the only candidate challenging Trump, he won’t be the only candidate to announce a candidacy this week after Senator Tim Scott (RS.C.) announced an offer Monday.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley are also in the running. Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) may also be making offers soon.
And potential new candidates are creeping out of the Republican political network: North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, a wealthy former Microsoft executive, has hired political advisers. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose previous presidential endeavors are best summed up in the word “Oops,” is also considering running.
The hope of isolating Trump one-on-one has been pipe dream, said one Republican strategist, citing the low cost and high potential rewards — a cabinet seat or a stint as a Fox News anchor — available to even the most unsuccessful presidential candidate . However, DeSantis’ missteps in recent weeks have opened an opportunity for other candidates to argue that they, and not DeSantis, are best placed to slay the Trump dragon.
“Everyone who’s in the running isn’t in the running for DeSantis, it’s in the running for Trump,” said John Feehery, a Republican lobbyist and former Capitol Hill adviser who is impartial in the primary.
These candidates either want to block Trump or are running for a spot on his candidacy or in his cabinet, Feehery said.
But DeSantis’ “weakness probably gave not only hope but also money for other candidates,” added Feehery, who said he prefers an alternative to Trump. “He was kind of shocked at how quickly Trump pursued him.”
With more than eight months to go before the first nomination contest in 2024, DeSantis remains the Republican closest to standing between Trump and another presidential nomination. And that’s exactly what the DeSantis team relies on.
“The Republican primary is already a two-man race, and Governor DeSantis isn’t even a candidate,” Erin Perrine, communications director for the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, said in a statement to HuffPost. “As we’ve seen in his recent visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, the momentum behind the governor is growing because he’s the only Republican who not only talks, but also fights hard, like fighting woke corporations.”
“The election couldn’t be clearer for primary voters — while Donald Trump may be talking big game, DeSantis is actually fighting and winning,” Perrine added.
But any of these lower-ranking candidates may elude the support DeSantis needs to win the zero-sum contest for party delegates.
On the Republican side, the stakes are particularly high in the nominee competition because while the Democrats are required to send their convention delegates proportionally, the Republican Party relies more heavily on primary elections that are all about winner or more.
In 2016The winner-take-all system in Florida, for example, helped Trump sure a huge group of delegates without even achieving an absolute majority. The result prompted the Florida Senator. Marco Rubio’s departure from the race.
Ahead of his 2020 re-election campaign, Trump encouraged More states will introduce systems where the winner takes whatever leads to a card on which 60% of the competitions were either winners from the start, or became winners when a candidate crossed a certain threshold. In theory, the more Republicans run in 2024, the harder it will be for DeSantis to overthrow Trump.
A field of mostly long-term candidates ranking in the single or low double digits in polls can also help Trump secure delegate victories without amassing a significant majority vote — or having to broaden his base.
The growing field of candidates, Republicans who oppose Trump’s concerns, could lead to a repeat of 2016, when GOP candidates — fearful of Trump’s grassroots insults and confident of his impending self-implosion — fought among themselves while Trump launched an eventually insurmountable Projection reached delegate leads.
“I ran a campaign in 2016 that was about attacking the guy who’s a front runner besides Donald Trump — we tried that,” Sarah Isgur, a former adviser to 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, said Sunday on ABC “This week.” “That leads to Donald Trump being the nominee.”
In fact, anecdotal polls from when DeSantis voted best showed that he defeated or was a close race with Trump as the two went head-to-head. However, adding other candidates typically resulted in a stronger position for Trump.
Many of the other contenders seem as likely to attack DeSantis as, if not more, than fight with Trump. Haley poked fun at DeSantis for his falling out with Disney earlier this month. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, another potential candidate, has both criticized DeSantis’ culture war tactics and insisted he is more financially conservative than the Floridian. Christie said DeSantis’ war with Disney shows the latter is “not a conservative.”
And DeSantis, of course, remains Trump’s number one target. Trump has dubbed Florida Gov. “Ron DeSanctimonious,” and the Make America Great Again PAC, a pro-Trump super PAC, has already begun running one TV commercial It uses DeSantis’ alleged use of his fingers to eat chocolate pudding as a metaphor for his votes as a member of the US House of Representatives to cut Social Security and Medicare.
“Ron DeSantis loves to stick his fingers where they don’t belong — and we’re not just talking about pudding,” the spot reads, as an actor dips two fingers into the dessert.
A second MAGA PAC commercial which parodies the children’s song “Old McDonald Had A Farm” and calls the governor “Ron DeSalestax” for raising the sales tax.
The attacks on DeSantis severely hurt his support among Republican primary voters. According to FiveThirtyEight, he has the support of about 21% of those voters, up from about 30% in March Average of public polls.
The governor’s decline in the polls began after his pre-election book tour, during which he appears to have struggled to pursue the aggressive retail policies needed to win a presidential nomination.
He also struggled to justify his right Accelerating the war with Disney and the multitude of new Florida laws being challenged in court on First Amendment grounds. Last month, DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban, a move that could either help him with hyperconservative anti-Trump evangelical voters or hurt him with more moderate Republicans and in the general election.
Haley trolled DeSantis Earlier this month over his escalating rows with Disney.
“If Disney wants to move its hundreds of thousands of jobs to South Carolina and bring the billions of dollars with it, I will let them know. I’ll be happy to meet her in South Carolina and introduce her to the governor’s legislature, who would welcome it,” she said.
For some conservative strategists balking at re-nominating Trump, the prospect of GOP candidates turning their fire on DeSantis rather than Trump brings back unhappy memories of the 2016 GOP primary.
To emerge from a crowded primary, DeSantis may need to reframe his message less about Trump and more about why he’s a better choice than, say, Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate running a campaign far less focused on culture wars. or Ramaswamy, a relatively unknown man who has caused a stir with his stance on the voting age and a merit-based immigration system.
At the same time, lesser-known candidates can argue that DeSantis’ popularity wave, which was unleashed during the coronavirus pandemic, has already peaked.
Even some conservatives, who believe DeSantis would be better than Trump and a more effective tribune for right-wing populism, admit that running a national election is new territory for him.
“DeSantis needs to break out of the Florida bubble and think about what he would do for the country as a national leader. That’s been missing from this conversation,” said Ryan Girdusky, a conservative adviser close to the more nationalist wing of the Republican Party. “You can’t plant palm trees in Michigan or Wisconsin. You actually have to tell me what you’re going to do for Michigan or Wisconsin.”
Girdusky encouraged DeSantis and other candidates to attack Trump from the right, including accusing him of failing to complete the border wall or stem the tide of illegal immigration.
“Donald Trump is like Philip Morris cigarettes in the 1960s and ’70s,” said Girdusky, the founder The project of 1776, a right-wing super-PAC active in local school board elections. “It’s a great brand that causes cancer, but people still like the brand. So you have to destroy the brand.”
Even in a crowded field, DeSantis can easily outperform its opponents in fundraising and will enter the race in front of a nationwide audience with a relatively empty list, said Republican strategist Jason Cabel Roe.
“What most people know about DeSantis is COVID and Disney. Ron DeSantis has a lot more to offer,” said Roe, a former senior advisor to Rubio. The other candidates are “not combative, they are not combative and they will not bring the same vivacity to the campaign as Ron DeSantis did.”