The assumption for much of the past year has been that the Republican presidential race will come down to former President Donald Trump against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But with DeSantis faltering in most polls, a new report says that the Republican donor class is “open to other Trump challengers.”
Ron DeSantis: Already in Trouble?
According to The Washington Post, neither Trump or Ron DeSantis appeared at a recent gathering of conservative donors in Georgia, although other possible candidates did appear, including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, former Vice President Mike Pence, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
While the Virginia governor did not directly hint at a run for president, per the Post, although Christie, the former Trump ally, “compared former president Trump to a member of the living dead, saying that a stake would have to be driven through his heart or he would keep coming back like a vampire.”
These donors believe polling that says voters have tired of Trump’s antics and would like an alternative.
But the Post interviewed numerous Republican strategists and donors, who made it clear that t “desire for a backup option has intensified amid questions about how the Florida governor would fare in a protracted battle against Trump and how he can distinguish himself from the former president without alienating Trump’s supporters.” They also worry that DeSantis will not wear well, which has been a concern about the Florida governor raised before.
DeSantis has not even announced that he’s officially running, but there are signs he may have peaked before even getting into the race. The Florida governor won a landslide re-election last November, at the same time that numerous Trump-backed candidates fell to defeat and Republicans failed to retake the U.S. Senate.
While some GOP donors interviewed by the Post are eager to donate to DeSantis, others have been “underwhelmed” in their dealings with the governor. One donor quoted by the newspaper echoed previous reporting that DeSantis “just kind of sticks to himself and does his own thing” at fundraising events.
The possibility was also raised that Trump and DeSantis could engage in a “slugfest” for much of the fall, leaving an opening for another candidate as the Iowa caucuses and early primaries approach.
But now, a new Fox poll has Trump widening his lead in the Republican contest.
The poll was worded in such a way that respondents were told “I’m going to read a list of potential candidates for the 2024 Republican nomination for president. Please tell me which one you would like to see as the Republican presidential nominee,” Trump leads with 54 percent support, up from 43 percent in February. DeSantis is second, with 24 percent, down from 28 percent a month before.
As usual with GOP presidential polls this cycle, no candidate besides Trump and DeSantis has over single-digit support. Pence is third with 6 percent, while former Rep. Liz Cheney and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley are tied at three percent. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has 2 percent, and several candidates — Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy — are listed at 1 percent.
Sen. Tim Scott, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, and Youngkin are listed with less than 1 percent. Of the candidates listed, only Trump, Haley, and Ramaswamy are officially declared candidates.
“My gut feeling is don’t count out some of the others,” said Mike Murphy, a GOP veteran who was part of the Trump opposition in 2016, told the Post. “There’s nothing wrong and everything right with surging on September 20, not now, when the Iowa caucuses electorate starts to finally tune in, which doesn’t really happen until the winter of this year.”
The Post story also quoted former Trump donor and first Trump impeachment figure Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
“What I’m hearing in the donor class is that we absolutely want to win this time. This is not about running your favorite horse for reasons of pride,” he said.
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Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.