After the 2022 midterm elections, Florida Gov DeSantis emerged as nearly bulletproof. As he likes to tell voters on the stump, his nearly 20-point re-election victory served as a bright spot in an otherwise rough election night for Republicans.
But despite kicking off his 2024 presidential campaign in a glitchy Twitter conversation with SpaceX executive Elon Musk, the former GOP golden boy has failed to launch. His candidacy has been riddled with stories of awkward retail politicking and losing endorsements to former president Donald Trump. Now there is also evidence that his campaign is on the downturn.
To be clear, the 2024 GOP primary is certainly unconventional since it features a popular former president who is essentially running as an incumbent against a bunch of other challengers. This upends the usual primary timeline where voters are essentially “dating” other candidates.
The central problem for Mr DeSantis, though, is he is essentially fighting a war on two fronts: Not only does he need to win over Mr Trump’s supporters, but he has to fend off all of the other candidates who are siphoning off support from him.
The latest example comes in a new St Anselm College poll that tracks the candidates in New Hampshire. Mr Trump has gained five points since the last poll in late April and is now sitting at 47 per cent. That means that Mr DeSantis and the other candidates now have to fight for roughly half of the GOP electorate. The bad news? In late April, Mr DeSantis polled at 29 per cent, but since then, he’s dropped 10 points in the poll, down to 19 per cent.
Mr DeSantis is also not faring too well in national surveys. An NBC News national poll showed that since April, he dropped nine points, while Mr Trump gained five points. Meanwhile, Sen Tim Scott (R-SC), Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, and even former vice president Mike Pence and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy have grown their support.
The problem seems to be clear: the non-Trump candidates are not going to win over Mr Trump’s voters. Instead, they would have to win over the non-Trump slice of the pie. For the longest time, Mr DeSantis led the non-Trump pack because he was the most prominent non-Trump candidate, but now that he’s been open to attacks, he’s losing steam.
Furthermore, both at the recent North Carolina GOP convention and last weekend’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, Mr DeSantis got large applause lines and people seemed to like him. But he always seemed to be second fiddle to Mr Trump. In Greensboro, North Carolina, he keynoted the first night of the GOP confab. But the next night, which came ahead of Mr Trump’s arraignment, the same banquet room had more tables and chairs for people who wanted to see the former president. And at the Washington Hilton, Mr DeSantis may have been a hit with evangelicals, but Mr Trump closed out the evening with multiple standing ovations.
“He’s presidential material, but it’s not his time,” Mathilda Davies told me of Mr DeSantis. Weston Martinez from San Antonio, Texas echoed the same sentiment.
“I've had lunch with Ron DeSantis and you know, great guy, fantastic guy, nothing wrong with him,” he said. But he ultimately said the other candidates were “doing a dress rehearsal” for 2028.
Mr DeSantis’s allies like Ken Cuccinelli, who runs the Never Back Down super PAC, have tried to make the case that Mr DeSantis is a true believer while Mr Trump “ran his own transgender beauty pageants,” but it seems to be having little impact as people still see Mr Trump as the presumptive nominee.
And it’s likely to get worse for Mr DeSantis. If the non-Trump candidates see Mr DeSantis as the candidate to knock off to get into a last-candidate standing match against Mr Trump, expect them to target him in the first debate.
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