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Could Ron DeSantis Beat Donald Trump in a Primary Fight?

Ron DeSantis

The Florida Governor is Ahead of Trump in New Hampshire. Is DeSantis Gaining on Trump Nationally? – Ron DeSantis is popular among voters and the left’s attacks against him are likely to help among conservative voters—according to a social media analysis by Impact Social released shortly after the Florida governor managed to outpoll former President Donald Trump in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire.

The Ready for Ron political action committee that is trying to urge the Florida governor to run for president commissioned the survey that is different from a poll, as Impact Social follows a “focus group” surveying the posts of about 40,000 swing voters across multiple social media platforms.

“Ron DeSantis is not short of love and support among floating voters. Many are attracted by his straight talking and political clarity which appeals to rightish voters living in more left leaning states,” the Impact Social summary of the findings said. “They see a leader who gets things done. People inside and outside FL [Florida] applaud how he has led the state through Covid 19 and support his policy positions on issues like guns, abortion and CRT [critical race theory].”

It wasn’t all good news, but the negativity was among left-leaning voters.

“Despite this love fest there are many fence sitters who loathe Ron DeSantis, though it must be stressed that this mainly stems from the left,” the Impact Social analysis says. “They see the governor as Trump in disguise. They feel strongly that FL is no longer a free state and has instead turned into DeSantis’ Land, an authoritarian country which is free only in the eyes of its leader. In evidence they speak of the Disney related ‘don’t say gay’ law, the withdrawal of funding to the Tampa Bay Rays—allegedly due to their views on gun control – and the supposed bullying of the Special Olympics to lift its vaccine mandate. All of which leads those who oppose DeSantis to mark him as ‘dangerous,’ a threat to democracy and freedom of speech.”

Those voters that deem him “dangerous” likely wouldn’t vote for Larry Hogan or John Kasich for president either in a general election. And being “Trump in disguise” isn’t all bad either since many conservatives believe DeSantis can fight like Trump—perhaps better—but without the baggage.

That could be why the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 39% of likely Republican primary voters in the would support DeSantis, edging out Trump at 37%. It was a small sampling size of 944 voters and within the margin of error of 3.2%. But less than a year ago—July 2021—Trump held a 47% to 19% over DeSantis in the same survey. In October, Trump beat DeSantis 43% to 18% among those surveyed in New Hampshire.

Notably, at the February 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—a national gathering that was held in Orlando—Trump handily won the straw poll with 59% of the vote to 28% for DeSantis. But at the Wisconsin Republican Convention, DeSantis won a straw poll by 38% to Trump’s 32%.

Considering the hearings by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the Capitol and other investigations, there is an argument that DeSantis would be far more electable in 2024 than Trump, largely remembered for chaos of one sort or another. On the other hand, let’s face it, it’s not just Trump. Democrats in Congress, a battalion of unaccountable Washington bureaucrats and the media would relentlessly attack any Republican president with an array of investigations. However, a battle-tested DeSantis seems to be more adapt at winning fights against the left than the often-self-sabotaging Trump.

If both run, the conundrum for DeSantis is making the case why Trump shouldn’t be president again. Pre-COVID-19, there is little to substantively critique the actual Trump record on, without dwelling on mean tweets and other shallow matters. It’s also a near certainty that DeSantis—an ambitious but somewhat obscure Florida congressman in 2018—would not be governor today if Trump had not endorsed him in a GOP primary.

Moreover, without the three Trump-appointed justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade would not have been overturned. While many conservatives didn’t trust him as the nominee in 2016, the Trump campaign released a list of potential high court justices that eased concerns on the right. Reversing one of the worst court rulings in American history is no small accomplishment and something that Trump can tout. While it seems likely any Republican president would have appointed originalists judges, the fact is that Trump did, and gets the credit with the outcomes. The right place at the right time is how history works.

I and others have noted that when Hillary Clinton seemed destined to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee, upstart Barack Obama shocked the political world by beating her. Obama was a favorite of the party base that was sort of ready to move on from the Clintons. There are big similarities with a potential DeSantis contest with Trump. A major difference is that Obama had Hillary’s Iraq war vote to pummel her with throughout the primary campaign.

There is not yet a parallel emotional issue to drive conservative voters to be mad at Trump over. The closest thing we might have been the pandemic lockdowns. If things get heated and Trump is calling the governor disloyal, it’s not difficult to expect DeSantis to honestly say something along the lines of, “Mr. President, when you were standing behind Dr. Anthony Fauci, I kept Florida open for business.”

It’s still a long way away. But last week’s New Hampshire poll and the social media data seem to make it more likely Ron DeSantis would run regardless of who else does or doesn’t run for president.

While Democrats seem to be flailing for a 2024 strategy, unsure if President Joe Biden will seek re-election and certain Vice President Kamala Harris would be a disaster, the Republican primary could be a monumental heavyweight fight.

Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of “The Right Side of History” podcast. Lucas is also the author of “Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump.”

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Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of "The Right Side of History" podcast. Lucas is also the author of "Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump."