Trump pollster's numbers on 2024 primary: Trump 55, DeSantis 9

(AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

What the hell, Ron?

You’re the only hope realistically for Never Trumpers to land a nominee in 2024 that isn’t you-know-who.

And you’re not even pulling double digits? After all the culture-war pandering of the past few months?

Maybe this is just a bum poll. It comes from John McLaughlin, who not only was Trump’s pollster in 2020 but who famously botched the projection for Eric Cantor’s primary defeat in 2014. Possibly these numbers are a little sweeter for his client than they are in reality.

But probably not a lot sweeter. Still a long way to go before DeSantis Fever is a threat to Trumpmania.

You can see there that DeSantis hasn’t really gained at any candidate’s expense. He’s pulling undecideds off the fence and into his column, which makes sense. Last November, 15 percent of Republicans were unhappy with the field as DeSantis sat at two percent. Eight months later, he’s up to nine percent and undecideds are down to seven. Righties who were dissatisfied with their options have found something to like in his blend of populism and competence.

When you remove Trump from the equation, though, you can see that DeSantis is pulling from other candidates as he rises to the top of the pack:

He began by siphoning off votes from Pence and Trump Jr but in the last month he’s begun pulling from Cruz, which also makes sense. If you’re into populist grandstanding, DeSantis can give you that as well as Cruz can plus back it up with an actual governing record and much more personal likability. He’s the obvious winner from this poll — besides Trump, of course, whose popularity hasn’t weakened at all since last November.

The big losers? That’d have to be Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio, both of whom trail, uh, Candace Owens when Trump is included. Haley at least inches ahead of her when Trump isn’t in the mix, although poor Marco is still behind. My theory of Rubio ever since 2016 has been that he’s hanging on in the Senate not because he enjoys the job or the drift of the post-Trump GOP but because he’s talked himself into believing that the modest but real gains Trump made with Latino voters last fall are a major boost to the national prospects for a Cuban-American senator from an influential state. I think he’s kidding himself in believing he can ever survive a primary where MAGA is a factor. McLaughlin’s data suggests that I’m right.

As for the developing Trump/DeSantis rivalry, Vanity Fair has a little something new on it today. The author is Gabriel Sherman, so take it for what it’s worth:

“There’s going to be a blowup,” a prominent Republican said. “Trump f***ing hates DeSantis. He just resents his popularity,” a Trump confidant told me. Asked for comment, Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington said: “Governor DeSantis has shown great respect.”

Part of Trump’s irritation with DeSantis is that Trump famously claims credit for anyone in his orbit who gains attention. “Trump tells people, ‘I made Ron,’” the prominent Republican said. “Trump says that about a lot of people. But in this case it’s actually true.” According to sources, then congressman DeSantis cultivated Trump’s support during the 2018 gubernatorial primary by hanging out at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel. “Ron basically ran his primary campaign out of the hotel. He buttonholed Trump supporters and his friends,” the prominent Republican said…

Once in office, DeSantis irked Trump by demonstrating an ability to push back, albeit in private. I reported last year that DeSantis rejected Trump’s plea to close Florida’s beaches as the pandemic raged. DeSantis has also built an impressive fundraising operation of his own that gives him leverage in his budding rivalry with Trump. According to the Miami Herald, DeSantis’s political action committee raised almost $14 million in April 2021, bringing its total to about $31.6 million. Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin made a $5 million donation.

I’m skeptical that Trump “f***ing hates DeSantis,” as DeSantis’s popularity is no threat to his — yet. (Is it?) But it’s inevitable that as DeSantis’s star rises, Trump’s irritation with him will too. One GOP strategist told The Hill that “Trump likes him. He sees him as a like-minded person, and it’s in his best interest for DeSantis to be reelected.” But, the strategist added, “After the midterms, that might change.” Think back to the early stages of the 2016 primary, when Ted Cruz was making nice with Trump in the expectation that Trump’s populist fans would eventually migrate over to a more principled conservative populist. The knives between the two came out in the weeks before the Iowa caucus. If Trump starts to suspect that DeSantis might run in 2024 even if Trump does too — which is unlikely, admittedly — then the knives will come out again.

But Sherman’s right that there are points of tension between the two. I wrote about one last week, as old grievances between DeSantis and Trump’s political director, Susie Wiles, reportedly led to squabbling behind the scenes about Trump’s recent rally in Sarasota.

The big flaw in McLaughlin’s poll isn’t its methodology, it’s how narrowly he imagines the universe of 2024 contenders in the event that Trump doesn’t run. There are all sorts of fringy candidates who might be enticed into the race by a Trump vacuum, especially if DeSantis falters before 2024 and doesn’t seem like a strong frontrunner. Mike Flynn, Lin Wood, Sidney Powell, Mike Lindell, Marjorie Taylor Greene — any one or more of them could jump in and pull a meaningful share of the vote away from more viable mainstream candidates. Would anyone wager heavily that Flynn or Greene would do worse than Marco Rubio, say? Could Lindell crack 10 percent given all he’s done over the past eight months to endear himself to MAGA voters convinced that the election was stolen? The 2024 race could be a sh*tshow.