Within a week’s time, Ron DeSantis has risen to the top of the Republican Party. He is undeniably their best hope at winning the 2024 presidential election and is poised to possibly even win the nomination. The question is, are enough Republicans willing to admit this? Are they finally willing to put the past behind them and move on from 2020? It seems they might be.
Following the dismal results of the midterm elections, Republicans are at a crossroads. There has been anger, despair and lots of pointing fingers. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has faced efforts to unseat him from within his own party. Kevin McCarthy may become House speaker with a slight Republican majority, but he too has faced unprecedented levels of criticism.
Then there is the biggest scapegoat of all: former President Donald Trump. Trump has received immense backlash from Republicans over the last couple of weeks, an occurrence that has been rare under his leadership. Nearly all of the candidates that Trump endorsed this election cycle, from Kari Lake in Arizona to Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, lost to their Democratic opponents.
Prior to the election, pundits, pollsters and everyone in between predicted a red wave and a grave Democratic defeat. Inflation has been high and there have been major concerns regarding the economy, illegal immigration at the southern border and President Joe Biden’s performance. So when the Republicans greatly underperformed, people began to look at Trump in a new light. He may no longer be the “king-maker” so many adored, but rather a hindrance.
. While these candidates could tentatively run and take his place in 2024, all signs are pointing to an emboldened Ron DeSantis entering the race. He could possibly even win it. The Florida Governor poses the biggest challenge to Trump’s political aspirations since another Floridian, Jeb Bush, did in 2016. As DeSantis’s star continues to rise, Trump’s continues to fall.
In the not-so-distant past, Florida was considered a swing state. Not anymore. While the state swung in both 2008 and 2012 to elect President Barack Obama, DeSantis has turned the state deep red. In his resounding victory to a second term, DeSantis beat his Democratic opponent Charlie Christ by a whopping 19 percentage points as opposed to his first term that he won by a mere 0.4%.
Public opinion has begun to favor DeSantis as well. A YouGov poll found that Americans prefer DeSantis to Trump. Overall, 23% of voters said they’d prefer to see DeSantis as the Republican nominee for president in 2024 while 20% said they’d prefer it to be Trump. Among Republican voters, 41% said they preferred DeSantis compared to 39% who preferred Trump, while 8% said they preferred neither. Previously, Trump blew DeSantis out of the water.
DeSantis is a savvy politician who can utilize Trumpist fervor when necessary, but he can also dial it back if he needs to. He has much fewer rough edges than Trump, and while he can certainly harness the electable qualities of Trumpism, he is less of a lightning rod for manufactured controversy. There’s a reason he has been nicknamed “Trump with a brain.”
One of DeSantis’s biggest advantages is his chances with independent voters. One of the reasons the Republicans did so poorly this election season is because many of the Trump-endorsed candidates rubbed independents the wrong way, something DeSantis could possibly reverse. He could also win the support of conservative talk show hosts, right-wing elites, donors and religious groups who could give a boost to his campaign and his outlook.
DeSantis can surely see the writing on the wall, and it seems Trump can too. The public jabs and passive aggressive attitudes have been on full display, to the point that Trump warned he would reveal dirt he has on DeSantis if he were to run. This could get ugly, and fast.
Despite the difference between these two men, there are many concerning similarities. While DeSantis is smarter about his execution compared to Trump, he can still be an effective provocateur. Just think about the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the culture wars and his disgraceful Martha’s Vinyard stunt. He has also shown narcissistic tendencies and authoritarian leanings.
In the end, it will be up to the voters to decide. A more respectable candidate might enter the race such as Mike Pence or Liz Cheney, but they won’t stand a chance. The nominee for the Republican Party will come down to two bad choices: a clumsy and narcissistic provocateur, or a slightly smarter one. Either way, America has a lot to worry about going forward.