By AB Stoddard for RealClearWire
Unfortunately for Ron DeSantis, the expectations for him are not high. For a critical mass of Republicans who want to get behind Donald Trump, the Florida governor is already an anointed savior. Although Trump still leads in most polls, DeSantis has always been the second choice and is the favorite of many Republicans who want a new standard bearer because they believe Trump cannot win.
Although he hasn’t started campaigning yet, and his allies say he won’t until the state legislature wraps up its session in May, DeSantis sure wants us all to think he’ll be a presidential candidate soon. He has a new book out, more visits outside the Sunshine State, more interviews on Fox News and more use of state power to suppress a group of things he opposes as “warning.”
His book is titled “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.” It’s not subtle.
This is not just any presidential race. Trump has remade the Republican Party, and he has taken control of the hard core of its base. Since Trump can prevail in winner-take-all primaries with a majority of the vote, as he did in 2016, DeSantis needs to catch fire immediately so other contenders feel pressure to drop out and support him in a two-person race.
So far DeSantis has shown impressive discipline, refusing to answer any of Trump’s provocations — from nicknames like “Ron Dissanctimonious” and “Meatball Ron” to the misbehavior DeSantis received while teaching high school girls early in his career.
Refusing to weigh in on everything that happens in Washington or Mar-a-Lago, DeSantis avoids the political fray. DeSantis has proven to be an efficient and effective governor, not only in his response to COVID but also in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. But he has put himself on the Republican map by building a record precisely to excite and delight MAGA with his curriculum culture wars and running to the right of Trump on vaccines.
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Will he be able to please the popular force in the Party of Trump enough to win the general election that rejected Trump, his party, and his candidates in 2018, 2020, and 2022? Unlike Trump, DeSantis has won over many Democrats with higher teacher pay, funding to restore the Everglades and stewardship of the state through the COVID pandemic while keeping Florida largely open.
But there is concern among some Republicans that DeSantis could scare off enough independent voters in the primary to lose the general election. Sen. Chris Murphy recently told the Washington Post that DeSantis is “using the government to manipulate and micromanage our lives” in an “Orwellian” and “creepy” way and suggested that Democrats should be given a chance.
The road to the White House is paved with landmines and will test DeSantis’ political instincts. An apparently demanding boss, he has had trouble with staff turnover and several former staffers formed a “support group” in 2021, Politico reports. Campaign experts have questioned how anyone who lacks a cadre of loyal aides, and tends to trust only his wife, can run a successful presidential campaign on the first try.
They have to play the insider-outsider game, both primary and general, which are difficult to define in the Trump era. Did DeSantis know what he was doing when he chose to endorse Harmeet Dhillon to chair the Republican National Committee even though it was clear that Ronna McDaniel would win? Maybe that’s meant to help his street cred with MAGA voters, but the truth is Trump has deeply co-opted the RNC and Rep. Matt supported McDaniel despite objections from Gaetz & Co.
Is it political genius or a rookie move? And does DeSantis know how terrible it is and moreover Advertisement Are we told that he was chosen by God?
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DeSantis has refused to do interviews with the mainstream media, something he has always done no matter how much Trump has railed against him. DeSantis is not naturally attractive and often appears grumpy in public. Behind closed doors, he’s not a great schmoozer. Trump is a performer, craves adoration and loves the stage. Trump is also a brawler whose attacks are not limited by decency or dignity. If DeSantis wilts in the face of Trump’s attacks and fails to be the “fighter” he sold himself to be, he must hope that primary voters prioritize competence over performance and not reject him for the reigning alpha.
A powerful juggernaut requires a deft balancing act. More consolidation around DeSantis could tip the scales for Trump — if the entire donor class, Fox News Channel, the Club for Growth and the rest of the GOP establishment back DeSantis, Trump will once again be an outsider. Headlines about Jeb Bush endorsing DeSantis help Trump.
Right now, he’s everyone’s favorite horse — but DeSantis doesn’t come to the venue or the show. He must win. It’s either beat Trump or go down as a huge disappointment.
For the 44-year-old incumbent, who just won reelection handily, waiting until 2028 after a second Biden term (or a second Trump term) is much easier than taking on this primary battle. But waiting and letting one’s “moment” pass is considered the kiss of death in politics. Presidential contenders are expected to have the courage to jump in and ride the momentum whenever they want. But for DeSantis, a primary victory could still invite a bitter end if Trump refuses to endorse him and boycotts the general election. In a close presidential race like 2020 or 2016, Trump could convince even a small percentage of GOP voters to sit it out and destroy DeSantis.
Make sure Ron DeSantis has the end game.
Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.
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