Ron DeSantis is Imploding – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is running for president, and he is losing, badly.
He is polling around 20% in the Republican primary.
Former President Donald Trump is polling over 50%.
Unless DeSantis does something dramatic this fall, he will enter the primaries next year a distant second.
Ironically, DeSantis is still the best chance for the GOP to remove Trump. All the other GOP candidates are even further behind.
The case for DeSantis is actually pretty obvious. He delivers on conservative policy, whereas Trump is mostly bluster. And DeSantis is not a criminal where Trump obviously is.
That this easy, rational strategy is failing so badly illustrates how little voters’ political choice is actually driven by politics. George Bush, Jr. famously was more appealing to voters as a guy to have a beer with than Al Gore.
And Trump’s charisma – his manic, transgressive energy – continues to power him over his rivals, including the stiff, awkward Ron DeSantis.
The Case for Ron DeSantis 1: He Delivers; Trump Talks
If one’s primary interest in politics is substantive policy change, then DeSantis is the obvious choice for conservatives.
This was his big appeal late last year, when trumpist candidates flamed out in the 2022 midterm election. DeSantis’ politics are similar to Trump’s, and he has been far more effective at delivering those political goals than Trump.
GOP voters looking for actual policy wins – instead of Trump’s theatrics – should be gravitating toward DeSantis. Trump is notoriously lazy, while DeSantis has worked hard to deliver conservative policies in Florida. DeSantis has leaned into the culture war issues, which activate ‘MAGA’ (Make American Great Again) voters. And Florida was a swing state until DeSantis’ governorship. The 2000 presidential election was famously fought to the bitter end in that divided state. Those days are over. DeSantis has moved Florida decisively into the red column.
The Case for DeSantis 2: Trump is a Crook; DeSantis is Not
DeSantis is also not a criminal. Trump is.
It is entirely possible that Trump will be mired in multiple court cases in the final leg of the presidential race next year. Indeed, he may be looking at jail time. This brings up awkward constitutional questions – can the president-elect go to prison? – but more importantly, it provides a huge opportunity for Ron DeSantis. It seems almost banal to note that conservative voters should prefer the guy who is not facing jail time.
This is the reason conservative elites – pundits, donors, some elected officials – swung hard behind DeSantis last year. They are exhausted with Trump and his shenanigans and clownishness. They know Ron DeSantis will work harder than Trump to deliver their goals and will do so in a far more disciplined, less erratic manner.
They also know that much of the country loathes Trump. Trump will probably not win in 2024. In a match-up that once again pits Trump against Joe Biden, as in 2020, there is no obvious reason Trump would do better than last time.
Indeed, re-run candidates usually lose by an even greater margin.
The Trump Cult
So what happened?
Why is DeSantis already ‘re-booting’ his campaign after just a few months?
The most obvious reason is charisma. Trump has it. DeSantis does not.
The comparison of Trump voters to a cult is often made. No matter what Trump does, they do not defect from him. Just last week, he spoke admiringly of Xi Jinping governing China with an ‘iron fist.’ This is terrifying. It would have been a massive scandal had any other candidate said it. But Trump’s voters are simply unmoved. This gives Trump huge leeway so speak and act in outlandish ways. And his voters, in turn, thrill to his transgressive, outrageous language.
Ron DeSantis, by contrast, is stylistically a normal politician. He is trying to win with traditional tools – TV commercials, policy speeches, and pictures of his family. This is pre-2016 GOP campaigning. This blandness famously sank Jeb Bush in 2015. The GOP base has moved on. It wants the Trump Show. It wants the thrills and entertainment Trump offers.
Trump, like Ronald Reagan before him, intuitively grasps the power and TV and performance. Trump is at his ‘best’ – his most appealing to GOP voters – when is acting out on live TV – riffing, laughing, telling stories, throwing insults off-the-cuff. DeSantis just does not have this gift, and it is hard to see how his bland, policy-focused approach can compete with the excitement Trump offers.