I almost titled this post, “Last night’s big winner: Ron DeSantis?”, as that’s become a post-primary tradition here at HA.
It would have been accurate too, although not because of the primaries in this case. DeSantis is obviously the chief beneficiary of Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony before the January 6 committee. His fans know it.
The prediction markets seem to have figured it out as well.
The only thing more enjoyable than seeing Trump’s stock fall is seeing Ted Cruz behind Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination. Imagine selling your soul to Trumpism for a chance to be president and trailing the guy who voted for impeachment.
All right, fine, I concede — prediction markets are stupid and tell us zippo about who the next nominee will be. They’re an amusing measure of “vibes” around different politicians, and DeSantis objectively has more positive vibes than Trump does lately. Although I confess to being a little surprised that Trump didn’t see any bounce on PredictIt following the Dobbs decision. The president who kept his promise to appoint three anti-Roe justices and fulfilled the fondest wish of social conservatives after a 50-year fight is … losing altitude against the new guy?
“I told you I’d nuke Roe and I meant it” is, uh, a pretty good campaign pitch in a Republican primary. I dare say it’s the greatest lib-owning since Reagan hung 525 electoral votes on the scoreboard in 1984.
But okay. You want something more scientific to show that DeSantis is gaining on Trump and you’re not satisfied with that Morning Consult poll showing him down “only” 53/22. Is there any other data out there that shows him seriously contending on a national scale? The New Hampshire poll last week that had DeSantis ahead is interesting, but New Hampshire is New Hampshire.
It turns out there is a national poll out today that’s encouraging for the new guy. YouGov:
Trump’s lead is down to 11 points among Republicans and right-leaning independents and down to single digits — 45/36 — among registered voters. Some of the demographic quirks in that data are fascinating. Trump leads in all age groups except senior citizens, who tilt towards DeSantis. Trump has a solid lead among Republicans but independents are Team Ron. Trump also leads by 11 among Republicans who are watching the January 6 hearings while DeSantis leads among those getting their coverage from news recaps. And most interestingly, Trump has a wide advantage among CNN viewers but just a six-point lead among Fox’s audience. Huh.
I don’t know how to explain DeSantis’s lead among seniors unless Trump’s abrasive brashness and, shall we say, civic desolation has rubbed them the wrong way. The rest of the differences are more easy to account for. Indies are naturally less cultish in their loyalty to Trump than tribal Republican partisans; in fact, many probably identify as independent in the first place because they’re right-wing but didn’t want to be part of the Party of Trump. People who are following the January 6 hearings via news recaps may be absorbing a certain amount of anti-Trump media spin in those recaps while those watching live may be strong partisans who are hate-viewing the proceedings to see how the “witch hunt” is playing out.
And as for Fox viewers being warmer to DeSantis than CNN viewers, that’s a testament to the sheer amount of exposure — relentlessly flattering exposure too — that Rupert Murdoch’s network has given DeSantis. If you’re a Republican who watches CNN, you might be disengaged enough from conservative activist politics that you simply don’t have much of a sense yet of who DeSantis is.
Which is dangerous for Trump. It’s obviously not the case that DeSantis will win all of the 17 percent here who call themselves undecided when asked to choose between the two candidates but I’d bet heavily that he wins the great majority. No one who calls themselves undecided about Trump at this point is eager to vote for him again. Those people want to see what else is on the menu and are clearly open to supporting an alternative provided that he makes a good impression.
The guy from Florida makes a very good impression on Republican voters. Those undecideds are therefore DeSantis supporters waiting to happen. All he has to do is introduce himself and close the sale.
Bottom line: I think Trump probably should get into the race sooner rather than later if he’s serious about running since he needs a way to halt the slow-motion migration towards DeSantis among Republican voters. If he announces his candidacy soon while DeSantis is stuck campaigning for governor, that’s at least four months in which he gets to try to convince GOPers that he’s the only game in town and it’s time for the ultimate lib-owning in 2024.
Although that strategy does come with risks, per Rich Lowry:
The advantage for Trump of an early announcement is that it would presumably cause almost all the candidates who have said they won’t run if he does to say they are out, an immediate show of strength. And it might solidify his polling some and get fence-sitting Republicans who now say they don’t want him to run to throw up their hands: “Well, I wish he didn’t do it, but now that he has, I’m with him.”
But there’s a risk of getting in early and just sitting out there and not generating the accustomed excitement and interest. Indeed, if there’s a growing sense of Trump exhaustion in the party, having him a declared presidential candidate for basically a year and half before the primaries begin might enhance it, not diminish it. An early Trump endorsement might also help the candidates who could run regardless — DeSantis, Cotton, Pence, et al. — calculate their moves. If you’re DeSantis, say, you can see what Trump’s strength as a declared candidate appears to be well before having to make the momentous call about jumping in yourself.
All true, but I think the longer he sits out at this point, the more he risks becoming old news. A year ago, before DeSantis really took off, it seemed like Trump might play coy throughout most of 2023 if only to assert his dominance over weak rivals like Cruz and Nikki Haley. They would likely sit back, quietly assemble campaigns just in case the great man opted not to run, but not declare out of deference to him. Trump would enjoy watching them squirm, knowing how afraid they’d be of offending him by jumping in and presuming to snatch the crown off his head.
DeSantis isn’t going to defer. He’s pointedly refused to say so when asked about it, which has reportedly annoyed Trump to no end. And DeSantis would relish the opportunity to get in first early next year, I think, precisely *because* it would show he isn’t afraid of Trump and aims to compete hard. Many Republican voters would respect that. If Trump’s looking to deny him that opportunity, he should announce soon and behave as if a rematch of the 2020 election is a fait accompli. Focus entirely on Biden, as if he’s already in general-election mode, and ignore all Republican hopefuls. The more GOP voters begin looking ahead to a Trump/Biden death match, the harder it’ll be for DeSantis to intrude on it later by asking them to upend their plans.
I’ll leave you with this.
Roger Stone told Alex Jones that he expects Trump to announce a 2024 presidential run in July.
"DeSantis needs to stick to his knitting," Stone said. pic.twitter.com/GAjx3KEhcJ
— David Edwards (@DavidEdwards) June 29, 2022