Ron DeSantis is falling apart: Ron DeSantis is usually seen by the right as the bright shiny object among presidential hopefuls.
The Florida governor opened up the state relatively early during the pandemic, to the relief of many residents. His economic development skills made citizens in states like New York move south to Florida.
DeSantis was polling well in hypothetical match-ups and enjoying ample press coverage that sung his praises. The young governor was going to be the medicine to the Trump-induced sickness in the Republican party.
But then DeSantis skidded into a rough patch. He received a scalding nickname from Trump, “DeSanctimonious,” for his indignant self-righteousness. Trump showed a photo that was purported to be DeSantis at a party for high school students when he was a young prep school teacher. Trump aired a strange but somewhat effective commercial that featured DeSantis eating pudding with his fingers. The former president hit DeSantis for past positions on changes to Social Security and Medicare. All of this contributed to a slump for the governor, and his polling numbers are crashing.
Moreover, DeSantis early on gave the appearance that he wouldn’t or couldn’t fight back against Trump.
Does He Want the Presidency Enough?
Then the whispers started among Republican insiders and donors.
DeSantis was not good at retail politics and was boring on the stump, they surmised. He rarely smiled and back-slapped to curry favor with wealthy supporters. He could sometimes look like he would rather be home in Tallahassee. The governor got in a never-ending brouhaha with Disney that made his political judgment appear questionable. His culture war stances, particularly with the LGBTQ community, made him look extreme, mean, and brittle.
Hoping to reverse these difficulties, his staff members tried to give DeSantis an opportunity to test himself on the international stage and work on his diplomatic and foreign policy chops. The last stop on a recent trip that started in Asia and moved through Israel was in England, where he aimed to create a trade partnership between Florida and the United Kingdom. British VIPs were not impressed with what some business people called a horrendous performance.
DeSantis looked tired and disinterested. Instead of lightning in a bottle, he offered up thin gruel in his remarks and appeared bored while doing so. The whole scene reminded Republican insiders that maybe 2024 is not going to be the governor’s year.
Ron DeSantis: Struggling in Polls
Polling backs this up. DeSantis is trailing Trump in just about every poll in existence. Trump has already delivered some damaging blows. DeSantis can only hope that the former president’s legal difficulties will scare away undeclared voters who would look to an alternative.
DeSantis made a mistake by not speaking at the CPAC right-wing confab in early March. He could have made inroads with movement conservatives there. He is trying to visit Iowa more, but so is Trump.
Trump is strong in Iowa. He has built up endorsements and has a long list of contact information and fundraising lists for supporters in the early-voting state. DeSantis has neither and will have to build this organization from scratch in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Other candidates such as former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and conservative entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy are getting more and more press coverage, and they have not stumbled so far.
How can Ron DeSantis turn? He has to poll better and reassure donors that he can beat Trump. He needs to go on the offensive and take the fight to Trump in a more aggressive manner. He needs a great debate performance in August at a forum in Milwaukee. DeSantis could also stand to work on his likability in small rooms. Smile more, and tell a joke or two. Failure to do so makes it seem that he is not relatable. Fighting woke politics is just one aspect of the presidency. A campaign is after all a popularity contest, and DeSantis doesn’t seem to be winning the likability game at the grassroots level.
A comeback is certainly possible, as he has ample cash in his coffers, but he has lost his early momentum. Trump and his supporters smell blood. Ron DeSantis is leaking oil, and Trump and other candidates are running their engines smoothly.
Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.