After over seven years of turmoil in Washington and decades in the spotlight prior to his political career, it’s not difficult to criticize Donald Trump.
Whether it’s his feathered hairdo, his overly tanned skin, or his often outrageously exaggerated claims, he’s an easy target.
Trump’s Large Lead
Donald Trump has been ahead in the Republican primary all year and continues to lead in the polls by large margins, seemingly gaining more support with every new indictment.
The latest New York Times/Siena poll shows Trump ahead “bigly” over all his Republican competitors – 37 points ahead of the next candidate, Ron DeSantis (at 17) and 52 points more than the next in line, Vivek Ramaswamy (at 2).
Although, the terms of the Times poll were not disclosed – how many G.O.P voters were polled, in what region, etc. – which can skew representation.
Even on a good day, however, Ron DeSantis still sits 24 to 30 points behind Trump. The rest don’t even hit double-digit support.
While I’m sure most Republican candidates would rather ignore the elephant – or the orange man – in the room, that’s an impossibility at this point. The former president continues to make headlines every day, and avoiding a comment on him would be considered dodging the question.
The question is how far will Trump’s political rivals go to beat him? Can they beat him? Or is the 45th President of the United States untouchable?
Most candidates have played it safe when it comes to criticizing the man many, if not all of them, at some point in their career, considered an ally.
Donald Trump and the Disloyal One
None has taken the heat for turning on Donald Trump more than Ron DeSantis, likely because he is the only candidate that truly is a threat to Trump’s nomination.
Trump has repeatedly decried Florida’s governor as “very disloyal.”
The once friends turned foes’ battle started before DeSantis even announced his run for the presidency. In November of 2022, Donald Trump called DeSantis an “average” governor who would have never won in 2018 without Trump’s help.
In a post on Truth social Trump stated:
“And now, Ron DeSanctimonious is playing games! The Fake News asks him if he’s going to run if President Trump runs, and he says, ‘I’m only focused on the Governor’s race, I’m not looking into the future.’ Well, in terms of loyalty and class, that’s really not the right answer.”
DeSantis has repeatedly countered Trump’s accusations by stating, “I’m loyal to my family, I’m loyal to our Constitution, and I’m loyal to God. That is where my loyalty goes. I’ll work with politicians to try to advance what I believe is in the best interest of Florida and the country but at the end of the day it’s about who can get the job done.”
DeSantis noted in his sit-down interview with Megyn Kelly that Trump doesn’t cry disloyalty regarding his other competitors which include his former vice president, his U.N. ambassador, or others candidates he endorsed in the past because “he construes me as the only threat to winning the nomination.”
Despite Trump’s juvenile attacks, including saying the governor had “tears coming from his eyes” begging for his endorsement during his gubernatorial race, the Republican primary runner-up has mostly taken the high road when it comes to Trump. DeSantis has even defended the former president, albeit in a somewhat backhanded way, by blasting the weaponization of federal law enforcement.
“Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary [Clinton] or Hunter [Biden]? The DeSantis administration will bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all.”
Policy Isn’t Enough
However, one has to wonder if Trump voters respond to high roads. One Republican political strategist and pollster Adam Geller doesn’t believe attacking Trump on policy alone, or even at all, will help his opponents secure the nomination.
Another republican strategist, Chip Felkel stated, “You can’t be half-pregnant. You have to run against him and run hard if you are a serious candidate and contender.”
So far, the only candidates that are “running hard” against Trump and willing to go after him over January 6th and his intensifying legal troubles are former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Texas Republican Representative Will Hurd, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, not exactly the strongest candidates in the running.
The bottom line is why would voters seek an alternative to Trump if Trump is in the race? None of the candidates are going to win without pulling some of Trump’s most loyal fans away from him and with Trump running there is no reason for them to defect. Like Coke once broadcast to consumers to support its status as the first cola, “It’s the real thing.”
Aside from personality, there’s not enough of a contrast between the other candidates and the man who has captured the hearts of middle America. To many voters’ dismay, it’s likely to be Trump all the way in 2024.
Jennifer Galardi is the politics and culture editor for 19FortyFive.com. She has a Master’s in Public Policy from Pepperdine University and produces and hosts the podcast Connection with conversations that address health, culture, politics and policy. In a previous life, she wrote for publications in the health, fitness, and nutrition space.