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Has Donald Trump Already Lost to Ron DeSantis?

Donald Trump. From Gage Skidmore.
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona from 2016.

The new poll that shows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis clobbering former President Donald Trump should be considered with caution–but is certainly notable.

The USA Today/Suffolk University survey shows DeSantis beating Trump with 56% to 33%, a margin that would have seemed unheard of even weeks ago.

Months ago, the notion that DeSantis could even lead Trump at all seemed far-fetched.

Despite President Joe Biden’s disastrous tenure, the poll found him beating Trump 47% to 40%. However, DeSantis leads Biden 47% to 43%.

But this Trump vs. DeSantis matchup is a national poll and there is no national primary. We should learn by now that Trump has a knack for defying odds and the polls.

There is also a long history of primary candidates peaking too early. So, with the don’t-overreact portion out of the way, it’s OK to recognize this as a significant shift. Republicans seem to want Trump policies without Trump, and a single viable alternative has emerged to carry that out.

Also, the most recent numbers by ImpactSocial–that monitors 40,000 social media accounts of self-identified swing voters–shows that post-2022 election saw a dive for Trump in net sentiment from -29 before the election to -45 after and a surge for DeSantis from +10 before to +16 after.

“In fact, if swing voters discuss an alternative to Trump from the right the name DeSantis is name checked around 95% of the time,” the ImpactSocial findings said.

The ImpactSocial analysis says occasionally the names of former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pop up, “but nearly always as a group and in relation to one other.”

“DeSantis is therefore currently the only stand-alone potential rival,” the analysis continues. “In addition, when ‘DeSantis’ is mentioned in a positive light a whopping 72% either just enthuse that he is a great guy, leader, future president etc., or state that they prefer him to Trump.”

There’s little doubt the country–the world for that matter–was in better shape during the Trump presidency than during the Biden presidency.

No recession and inflation, no border crisis and no emboldened enemies abroad.

Yet, Trump fatigue may be real.

In 2016, Trump’s appeal is that he would fight for the forgotten man, the average American, against the Beltway establishment in the pocket of the privileged elite.

For 2024, however, Trump too often seems concerned with his own grievances about the 2020 election and treatment by the federal bureaucracy.

Trump isn’t wrong to say he was a victim of a harassment campaign from enemies inside nontransparent politicized executive branch agencies and very transparent partisans in Congress. But the public is rarely in a mood to hear any politician talk about being a victim.

DeSantis—probably prudent at this juncture—is hanging back and not engaging Trump.

Though, there will come a point where if he runs, he will have to engage the former president and make the case why he is a better choice. Winning helps make that case.

Had there been a red wave nationally, as was expected, a DeSantis victory would not have stood out. What Republican wouldn’t win in such an environment? But DeSantis led Florida Republicans to a red wave, even though nationally, it was only a red trickle.

While he has clear appeal to movement conservatives, he has crossover appeal by projecting competence.

That could be a big advantage over Trump or Biden. If it’s not Biden in November 2024, the DeSantis competency advantage is doubly true regarding Vice President Kamala Harris.

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Fred Lucas, the author of The Myth of Voter Suppression, is the manager of the Investigative Reporting Project at The Daily Signal.

Written By

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."