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Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis: Who Will the GOP Choose?

President Donald J. Trump delivers his remarks Saturday, Feb. 29, 2019, during his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Former President Donald Trump had a rough midterm. Although results are still pouring in, Trump’s candidates appear to have lost wholesale, raising questions about Trump’s viability as a candidate. Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis won a blowout victory, trouncing the margins that Trump won in Florida two years ago, raising the question: who is the future of the GOP?

MAGA Candidates Lost Steam

Trump lost spectacularly in last night’s midterms; the projected red wave, which history itself assured, never materialized. And it wasn’t simply that the GOP lost big, and Trump, by association, lost, too. No, Trump lost personally. His preferred, endorsed candidates lost in droves. And in large part, the overall GOP loss can be attributed to Trump. As David Frum wrote in The Atlantic, Trump “pushed his party to nominate weirdos and crackpots.” Like in Georgia, for example. Trump “trapped a supposedly pro-life party into rallying to a candidate credibly alleged to have pressured two different women into unwanted abortions.” Crazy but true. And now the GOP’s dwindling hopes of retaking the Senate lie with that very abortion-funding candidate, Herschel Walker.

Across the board, with only a few exceptions, Trump-endorsed candidates were defeated. Meanwhile, GOP candidates who Trump openly opposed, like Georgia Secretary of State and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, won big. 

The message seems clear. Trump’s power is waning. “Last night, voters got their chance to render a verdict,” Frum wrote. “And whatever else they meant to say, they clearly communicated that they were sick of Trump and his antics.”

Wrestling Power Back from Trump

Not since the Republican primaries of 2016 has there been such an opportunity to wrestle power back from Trump. For seven years, Trump has dominated the GOP, bullying his opposition; Trump made everyone conversation, every issue, and every election squarely about Trump. And consistently, that Trump-centric messaging has been a loser. 

Trump led his party from loss to loss,” Frum wrote. “He lost the popular vote in 2016. He lost the House in 2018. He lost the popular vote and the Electoral College in 2020. He lost the Senate in 2021.” And now Trump is behind the losses in the 2022 midterms. Yet regardless of Trump’s prodigious loss, he remains the head of the GOP. And he will remain the head of the GOP until someone can forcefully displace him. 

After last night’s results, the most viable successor appears to be DeSantis, who won Florida by a 20-point margin over former Florida Republican Governor (turned Democratic candidate) Charlie Crist. To put the significance of DeSantis’ victory in perspective, consider that Trump only won Florida by a 5-point margin two years ago. And remember that the Donald lists Florida as his home state. Could DeSantis’s popularity relative to Trump in Florida indicate national trends?

“DeSantis’ allies trumpeted his resounding reelection Tuesday as a sign that national GOP energy is behind him,” The Washington Post reported. “The governor romped over Democrat Charlie Crist and won Miami-Dade County, which hasn’t been claimed by a Republican since Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002.”

DeSantis had been posturing for a 2024 presidential run before the midterms. Now, with last night’s resounding success under his belt, DeSantis will most likely make a push for the presidency in 2024. During his acceptance speech, DeSantis spoke in terms suggesting he may be eyeing bigger things.

“Now thanks to the overwhelming support of the people of Florida, we not only won the election, we have rewritten the political map,” DeSantis said. “Thank you for honoring us for a win for the ages.” DeSantis continued, calling Florida a “promised land” relative to the rest of the country.

“Now while our country flounders due to failed leadership in Washington, Florida is on the right track,” DeSantis said.

While DeSantis hasn’t yet announced his intention to run for president, safe money suggests he will. If he does, he’ll have to take on the Donald for the GOP mantle. But Trump’s stock has perhaps never been lower, while DeSantis’s has perhaps never been higher.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. 

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.