Ron DeSantis May Be Out Before He’s In
It seems as though it was only last week that the powers that be in the Republican Party were ready to anoint Ron DeSantis as the heir apparent to Donald Trump. The more sober-minded, not totally-sold-out-to-MAGA Republican politicians and pundits were uniting behind the Florida governor and proclaiming that a vote for anyone else was a vote for Donald Trump. Uncharacteristically for Republicans in past half-decade, this was considered to be a bad thing.
Granted, it’s a little ironic that most of the Republican politicos who were rushing to endorse DeSantis and point fingers at skeptics were largely the same people who rushed to endorse Donald Trump and lock out challengers to the incumbent president in 2020. The Venn diagram of Republican elites who wanted no one other than Trump in the last cycle and who are frantic to be rid of The Former Guy in 2024 is pretty close to no overlap.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. Although we are still at a point that would normally be very early in the primary cycle, DeSantis has not yet tossed his hat in the ring. In failing to do so, he has allowed Trump, Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy (who?) to steal a March on him. To make matters worse, DeSantis seems to have failed to catch on with Republican voters despite some high-profile endorsements as well as also making some significant missteps on the pre-campaign trail recently.
One of the most damaging incidents was when DeSantis characterized the Russo-Ukraine war as a “territorial dispute” on Fox News. As the AP details, DeSantis may have thought that he would be able to split the baby between the pro-Ukraine traditional conservatives and the pro-Putinists in the MAGA wing of the party. No such luck. After an outcry, the governor reversed himself, calling his remarks “mischaracterized,” and said that Vladimir Putin was a “war criminal.”
The damage was done, however. Governors almost always have to prove their chops on foreign policy and the misstep and quick u-turn hurt DeSantis’s credibility. The moment gave Trump the opportunity to say that DeSantis was “following what I am saying” and that it was a “flip-flop.” Third-place candidate Nikki Haley was quick to agree, calling DeSantis’s performance “weak.”
When Donald Trump raised the possibility that he would be arrested this week, a claim the New York DA now calls “a false expectation” created by the former president, DeSantis similarly tried to have it both ways.
Reacting to the story at a press conference, CBS News quotes the governor as poking fun at Trump, saying, “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair, I just can’t speak to that,” before calling the matter “some type of manufactured circus by some Soros DA.” The response seems to vacillate between acknowledging that Trump could have acted illegally while at the same time dismissing the possible indictment as politically motivated.
These two incidents underscore the difficulty that DeSantis – or any Republican – is going to have knocking off Donald Trump. The Republican Party is a deeply divided party, with a large share of Republican voters still beholden to Trump. The other half of the party may not necessarily dislike Trump, but they do see him as a liability.
To win the nomination, a Republican who isn’t Trump is going to have to whittle away at Trump’s base while consolidating the majority of the non-Trump factions of the party. The rub is that the two sides of the party are not united in much more than their visceral dislike of all things left. That makes it very hard for any candidate to bridge the gap. How do you consolidate the two wings of a party that are supporting opposite sides in a literal shooting war?
There are a few different schools of thought on that. One way is to be a leader and win the other side over to your camp. A different tactic is to triangulate and make both sides think that you’re one of them. Yet another possibility is to carve a plurality out of the middle while trying to depress turnout for your opponents.
Thus far, it seems that DeSantis’s strategy has been to veer to the right by engaging in culture wars in an attempt to woo Trump’s base. The problem is that Trump’s base does not appear willing to be wooed.
It isn’t that they don’t like DeSantis, they just don’t like him in a two-way race with Trump. At a lot of rallies and public events, Republican voters say that they like both men but see DeSantis more as vice presidential material or a standard bearer in 2028. It’s not uncommon to see Republican rally-goers wearing both Trump and DeSantis gear (with The Former Guy’s garb is always more prominent), but that may not last as the two sides dig in and become more hostile to the other.
The bottom line is that what DeSantis is doing now is not working. Trump consistently leads in primary polling by healthy margins, and I’ll wager that the indictment stunt will give The Former Guy an added boost as Republicans circle the wagons. An Emerson College poll from last week found that DeSantis even trails Trump in his own state of Florida.
If and when he finally announces, DeSantis will probably get a polling bounce, but that won’t be a permanent gain. It probably won’t even be enough to take Trump’s lead temporarily. The governor is going to have to find a formula that works and he is already running out of time and distance to do so.
There are two big reasons that DeSantis is losing. One is that the Republican Party is still the party of Donald Trump. The second reason is that DeSantis is trying to be everything to everybody. In so doing, he comes off as insincere and not genuine. The “flip-flop” label is often deadly for political candidates.
And as for DeSantis’s elite backers, Heath Mayo of Principles First had an excellent point when he compared the elite DeSantis backers to the anti-anti-Trump faction of a few years ago. These were people who didn’t want to be labeled as Trump supporters, but they were much tougher on Trump critics than on the man himself. Anti-anti-Trump was composed of people who thought that the big problem with Trump was the mean tweets.
The problem for DeSantis is that anti-anti-Trump was transactional. They didn’t really have a problem with Trump, so they rallied to him when they thought he could win. Now, the DeSantis campaign is only a means to an end for them. If Trump or someone else becomes the nominee, they’ll pull the lever for whoever the Republican candidate is.
Not so for Trump’s voters. Many of them probably don’t have a second-choice Republican. A very large share of Trump voters will stay home rather than turn out for Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley or whatshisname. Some might even cross over to vote Democrat out of spite.
The Republican elites know this. As much as they don’t like Trump, they do realize that nominating someone else would split the party, assuring a Biden (or whoever the Democrats nominate) victory in 2024. With the prevailing attitude of party-over-all in the GOP, the reluctant DeSantis supporters will eventually fall in line and vote Trump when he becomes the nominee yet again.
A few months ago, I was convinced that DeSantis would run. Now, I’m not so sure. He is an astute politician and he can see which way the political winds are blowing. I’m starting to think that he may sit this one out.
I’m picturing horse-race style coverage of actual horses 8 months before the race. Too much hay! Not enough oats! I’d love it if DeSantis makes no mistakes and tops every poll through the primaries, but nothing cited in this article even indicates a slip-up, much less a change in political winds.Report
This is more like 3 years before the actual race. 8months before the derby you have actual races to talk about.
“Not enough hay for it’s dam.” “Give the stud more oats!”
Y’all haven’t even seen the filly take its first step…Report
It is, agreed, infinitely too soon.Report
I feel ‘comes off’ is doing a lot of work there.
DeSantis has no charisma. He has no public speaking ability. And he is completely insincere about literally everything.
‘flip flopping’ isn’t the problem…Trump did that all the time. The problem is that DeSantis has absolutely no personality coming across, and the Trumpists operate _entirely_ off personality. Entirely entirely. It is literally the entire universe for them.
I actually was worried about him, a month ago, as ‘slightly more competent Trump’, in that he actually manages to do the fascist nonsense that Trump never could, but then I did some research and realized he’s just been playing this crappy facsimile of Trump, except he thinking that actual policy ‘accomplishments’ would result in votes, but…the thing is, Trump voters care way more about the ranting and raving than _actually doing things_. (If they cared about actually doing things, they wouldn’t be voting for Trump to start with!)
And DeSantis cannot, in any manner at all, rant and rave…he’ll be ripped to shreds by Trump. Hell, it looks like this just started.
Oh, and as for the VP idea, it would be utterly horrible if it happened, it’d basically be Bush/Cheney again, and DeSantis could help with Trump’s election by presenting real policies. Except…Trump is never in a million years going to pick him. Hell, Trump is going to go utterly crazy with his VP pick, considering that he thinks his last one, forced on him by the GOP establishment, betrayed him by not helping with the coup.Report