Florida Governor Ron DeSantis entered 2023 as the only man who could possibly unseat former President Donald J. Trump as the 2024 Republican Party presidential nominee. It’s been a rough go for DeSantis, marked by an uneven campaign performance, unmet expectations, and staffing woes.
Yet the two factors that remain consistent are DeSantis’ superior ground game in key primary states like Iowa, as well his massive cache of campaign donations, which continue flowing despite all the pitfalls of his early presidential campaign. (Of course, DeSantis supporters rightly argue that mistakes should be made at the start, rather than the end, of any presidential campaign.)
Ron DeSantis: A Walking ATM
With around $100 million in the bank, Ron DeSantis has a lot of wiggle room at his disposal. And unlike Trump, whose poll numbers outstrip any of the other GOP presidential nominees, DeSantis does not need to divert a penny of that impressive war chest to ridiculous legal matters.
All DeSantis’ campaign cash goes toward furthering his objective of becoming the forty-seventh president of the United States.
The true source of Trump’s ire is the fact that, despite his higher polling numbers (for now), DeSantis’ campaign continues to be well funded. Back in June, the DeSantis campaign fundraised more money ($20 million) than the Trump campaign had ($15.5 million).
Trump’s donations, meanwhile, have been inconsistent and have been outstripped both by his primary rival, DeSantis, as well as by his potential rival in the general election (if Trump becomes the GOP nominee), President Joe Biden. DeSantis’ campaign is charging ahead with a continual money flow, whereas Trump is already heading into problems associated with his growing legal fees.
Because Trump holds such a commanding lead in the polls, though, and he avoided the pitfall of being ensnared by his rivals at the first GOP debate, Trump can afford to not be as well-funded and to be distracted with his various legal woes.
That will only last for so long, though.
DeSantis’ clear fundraising advantages, coupled with his incredible record as governor of Florida — the fourth-largest economy (in GDP terms) in the United States — means that DeSantis is slated to win the Iowa Primary, when voting takes place in January of next year.
After that, whatever polling advantages Trump enjoys will bleed away as the reality of voters’ preferences is brought into the calculations of the various campaigns. DeSantis must win Iowa, and he is well-poised to do so at this rate.
If he wins Iowa, DeSantis’ campaign will have the momentum it needs going forward.
With momentum comes more media coverage and more voter interest — and even more campaign donations, from contributors large and small.
Has Trump Peaked?
Presently, both Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are enjoying their moment in New Hampshire, the next primary after Iowa’s. But from there, the campaign shifts to South Carolina, where the real advantages will redound to the benefits of both DeSantis and Trump above the other GOP contenders.
Already, DeSantis has tied for second place in the South Carolina primary with Sen. Tim Scott, who represents the Palmetto State in the United States Senate. If even a son of the state is having difficulty besting DeSantis, then it stands to reason that with DeSantis’ fundraising advantages and stellar organizational capabilities, states like South Carolina will be far more competitive than what Trump thinks they will be.
Of course, the campaign is still young, which is why it’s ridiculous for anyone, including Trump, to claim victory. Anything can still happen. The one thing that wasn’t supposed to happen, though, was for any of the candidates in the GOP to see any kind of bounce in either their polling or fundraising after the first Republican debate occurred.
Even Trump’s counterprogramming of appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show on X, formerly Twitter, couldn’t stop DeSantis’ slow-but-strong momentum. Yes, the Trump-Tucker interview got record-smashing ratings, but when it comes to fundraising, DeSantis outstripped Trump.
It remains to be seen whether DeSantis can truly convert his decisive fundraising advantage into a campaign that can topple Trump. But I do think the fact that DeSantis is essentially a walking ATM explains why Trump is fixating on him, even as some national polls are lowering DeSantis into a tie for second with the biotechnology billionaire, Vivek Ramaswamy. Trump understands the importance of money and how it can transform a race — especially if it is applied by a strategic leader like DeSantis.
That, combined with his legal woes, could very well mean that Trump has peaked.
A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (Encounter Books), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert occasionally serves as a Subject Matter Expert for various organizations, including the Department of Defense. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.
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