Oh my: DeSantis 44, Trump 41 in 2024 primary poll of Florida

(AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

Sure, sure, it’s just one poll. And a poll with a small sample of 259 people at that.

But I think it’s the first one I’ve seen in which DeSantis leads Trump head-to-head. By comparison, a Suffolk poll of Florida published three weeks ago found Trump leading him 47/40.

Feels like … a turning point!

Of course, this is a poll of Florida, DeSantis’s home turf and the place where Republican voters know him best. It’s all but certain that Trump leads him, probably considerably, in America’s 49 other states.

On the other hand, Florida is Trump’s home turf too. He won the state twice in the general election and crushed native son Marco Rubio by 18 points there in the 2016 primary. There may not be a single person in either party capable of beating him there.

…Except one, if this survey from the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab is accurate.

That’s not the worst result for Trump in this poll, arguably. The worst result is the numbers showing DeSantis destroying his Democratic competitors in this fall’s gubernatorial race. He leads Charlie Crist 55/34 and Nikki Fried 55/32, mind-boggling margins given that he won his office in 2018 by less than a point and that Trump won his two presidential victories there by three points or less. If DeSantis puts up a double-digit victory in a key swing state in November, his claim to be the most electable Republican in the country will be all but irresistible.

Certainly, it’ll be vastly stronger than that of a one-term twice-impeached former president who never won the popular vote.

I continue to believe that a DeSantis blowout in his reelection bid is the only vaguely plausible scenario in which Trump isn’t the 2024 nominee. Even DeSantis would be no match for Trump if he were to win reelection narrowly, as that would let Trump claim that DeSantis is no more popular in Florida than he himself is. But if DeSantis runs up the score? Suddenly he looks like the strongest card Republicans could play with swing voters in 2024.

And the bigger his margin of victory, the more buzz it’ll generate nationally. That’s important for DeSantis since his main disadvantage against Trump is name recognition. The significance of today’s Florida poll is that, among the Republicans who know both of them well, there’s now a mild preference for the new guy. The key to DeSantis competing nationally is somehow getting Republicans across the country to also know him well before 2024. “DESANTIS TURNS FLORIDA BLOOD RED” headlines this fall would help a bunch.

There’s a weird quirk in the Trump versus DeSantis polling, though. Look back at the numbers above and you’ll find that Republican men decisively prefer DeSantis while Republican women prefer Trump. Is that a fluke? According to Florida Politics, no. The Suffolk poll I mentioned above also found a gender gap between the two, with DeSantis leading by a point among men and Trump leading by 13 points among women.

I’m at a loss to explain that. Normally it’s Trump who struggles with women voters while men respond to his alpha-male persona. The Florida polls turn that dynamic on its head. I’m tempted to concoct a hot take based on COVID restrictions and gender stereotypes, with men approving of DeSantis’s battle against mandates while women feel more cautious towards the virus. But Trump is anti-mandate too and famously pushed hard to reopen the country a few weeks after the initial lockdowns in spring 2020. If you strongly oppose — or favor — restrictions, you shouldn’t have a stark preference between the two.

So what explains the gender gap? I’m stumped.

While you mull that over, let me blow your mind with the most unexpected primary poll of the year:

Note well: That’s a poll taken of all voters, not Republican voters. Democrats and independents are boosting Cheney here, with indies shaking out Trump 31, DeSantis 17, Cheney 14. Among Republicans Cheney does worse, tallying just seven percent versus 47 percent for Trump and 20 percent for DeSantis. But that seven percent is much higher than I’d have guessed, especially with Ted Cruz polling at six percent and Mike Pence at five percent in the same poll.

According to Rasmussen, in other words, the country’s most prominent Never Trumper is in third place and even outpolling some MAGA stars. Huh.

It shouldn’t be that surprising. Although I often say Never Trumpers are a rounding error in the party, the truth is that six percent of Republicans voted for Biden in 2020 according to the exit poll. Among independents, a group that includes many right-leaning voters, Biden won handily, 54/41. If Cheney ran for president, she might well be good for 10 percent in a primary thanks to the rump anti-Trump conservative faction. That’s not going to get her anywhere close to winning but it won’t leave her in last place either. It’d be nice if she ran just to remind the GOP that not everyone in the party is on board with its MAGA-fication.