A bipartisan Coalition of the Willing that includes the last two presidents, the media and nearly everyone else on the left, plus Trump loyalists, has united to try to sink Ron DeSantis’s candidacy before it begins. DeSantis has been savaged by the press for keeping Florida open during the pandemic and for fighting culture wars, yet voters still gave him a nearly twenty-point win in November. At that time, however, the right was united behind him. Can he now survive amid more relentless and bipartisan attacks?
Consider some of the hit pieces/obituaries that have sought to sink DeSantis’s presidential candidacy in recent weeks. NBC News: “‘I think he’s in trouble’: Growing number of Ron DeSantis donors and allies hope for a shake-up.” Rolling Stone: “Ron DeSantis F-cked With the Wrong Fandom (Disney).” Politico: “Ron DeTedious: DeSantis Underwhelms Britain’s business chiefs.” CNN: “‘His people skills are very, very bad’: Hear what Billionaire GOP donor thinks about DeSantis,” and “How bad is it for Ron DeSantis? He’s polling at RFK Jr.’s level.” Vanity Fair: “Ron DeSantis, Bigot Extraordinaire, Bans Discussing Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Through 12th Grade” and “Ron DeSantis Backers Urge Him to Jump into 2024 Race ASAP, as Pudding Boy’s Poll Numbers Bite the Dust.”
In a Wall Street Journal piece with the headline “DeSantis’s Miscalculation: ‘Disney Is Playing the Long Game,’” a reporter asserted that the feud could “drag down” DeSantis’s presidential prospects. But the author cited no polling to back up the assertion and ignored a recent Harvard-Harris poll which found that 56 percent of respondents, including 42 percent of Democrats, back DeSantis in his dispute with Disney.
Trump and his team have attacked the man he calls “DeSanctus” or “DeSanctimonius” while ignoring the other declared and undeclared candidates, whom he apparently perceives as non-factors. The ex-president, who lives in Florida, has portrayed his adopted home state as if it were one of his fabled “shithole countries,” even though it’s the fastest growing state in the country. Trump has repeatedly claimed that crime has spiraled under DeSantis’s watch, even though it recently reached a fifty-year low, according to the 2021 Annual Uniform Crime report. He’s praised Charlie Crist, the Democrat DeSantis walloped by nineteen points in November, and has dubiously claimed that New York did better with Covid than Florida.
This week on his Truth Social platform, Trump shared a chart showing that California, Texas, Florida and New York had the most Covid cases. “So, explain. Why did Ron DeSanctus do a good job? Highly overrated. New York had fewer Covid Cases!” Trump failed to note that the Covid case rankings closely followed the population order: Florida has nearly three million more residents than New York. The post still received nearly 10,000 likes.
Trump allies have also gotten in on the Florida Man attacks. Conservative author and podcaster Candace Owens recently savaged DeSantis over an overseas trade mission he took last week. “I cannot fathom how there are people defending Ron Desantis’s world tour,” she tweeted. “He and his wife are acting like they’re JFK and Jackie O.” She later tweeted in response to criticism, “No it is not forbidden. But spending more days out of your state than in it is not right.”
Meanwhile, Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, who recently declared he won’t run in 2024, was also on an overseas trade mission with a similar itinerary at the same time, but he elicited no criticism from Owens or anyone else. And Fox News contributor Joe Concha took a cheap shot at DeSantis, comparing him to Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin, who ran a dismal campaign for president in 2016. But Walker was elected governor in 2010 with 52 percent of the vote, then survived a recall attempt in 2012 and was re-elected with 52 percent of the vote in 2014, before losing in 2018. By contrast, DeSantis was elected by less than half a point and then won the Latino vote by thirteen points in the biggest landslide in the state since Reconstruction. Not exactly a fair comparison.
The DeSantis campaign does indeed have challenges it will need to overcome. For one thing, the media is promoting a narrative that he lacks the charisma and ability to do the kind of retail politicking necessary to be president. There’s no question that DeSantis is on the serious side and has rubbed some people the wrong way over the years. You get a sense of this in his memoir, where he devotes very few pages to his personal life and barely mentions his parents, his deceased sister or his friends.
There are also some in the billionaire donor class who dislike his conservative positions on social issues and want him to move left. Trump has also racked up lots of endorsements (most of them meaningless in the scheme of things) and he’s gotten a bump in national polls since the Bragg indictment, which is exactly what Democrats hoped would happen.
But although Trump has a big lead, DeSantis is still performing quite well for an undeclared candidate, particularly in state polls, which are more insightful than national ones, and in head-to-head matchups against Joe Biden. For example, a recent Franklin and Marshall University poll found that DeSantis trails Trump by just six points in critical Pennsylvania. And a recent Wall Street Journal poll has DeSantis beating Biden by three points, with Trump losing to him by the same margin.
In any case, as an undeclared candidate, DeSantis hasn’t yet made the case for why he should be the nominee and, for the most part, he hasn’t punched back at Trump. He’s at 20 to 35 percent in every poll, while all the other Republican contenders are at 5 percent or less. Yet you don’t see any stories claiming that Nikki Haley (3.9 percent average in polls) or Mike Pence (5.4 percent) or Vivek Ramaswamy (2.6 percent) are dead ducks.
If you tune out the media noise, DeSantis is still in an enviable position. According to Politico, he has a campaign war chest of $110 million, double what Trump has in the bank. The media barely covered Trump’s recent threat to boycott the GOP debates, but if he’s a no-show, that could hurt him. And while the frivolous Bragg indictment has helped him, the Georgia investigation into his alleged interference in the 2020 election vote count and the Justice Department investigation into his role on January 6 could uncover damaging information that will hurt his standing, particularly with independents.
A substantial portion of the Republican base is still stuck on Trump, the left wants him to get the nomination, and the media understands that he produces clicks and ratings. So the awkward left-right Coalition of the Willing is portraying Trump as an invincible candidate now. But I see many parallels between Trump and Hillary Clinton. Clinton had similarly high unfavorable ratings when she launched presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016. In 2008, she had the same huge early lead over Obama and other Democrats that Trump now enjoys. But the more voters heard from her, the less they liked her. Then, in 2016, Democrats made a massive blunder in handing her the nomination, despite her poor favorability ratings, because it was “her turn.”
Trump is now essentially running on Hillary’s “it’s my turn” platform. In every interview, he rails against DeSantis for disloyalty. He’s up in the polls but rarely cracks 50 percent. A recent AP-NORC poll indicated that 44 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Americans don’t want him to run for president. Since Trump’s 2016 triumph, the Republican Party has lost 41 seats in the 2018 midterms, both seats in the Georgia runoff, and the White House in 2020, while performing poorly in the 2022 midterms. Republican voters need to decide if they want to walk into the trap the left is setting for them by staying loyal to this man.