Florida poll: DeSantis 61, Trump 39

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

For the second time in five days, a pollster from Florida with whom I’m unfamiliar sees DeSantis leading the former guy comfortably in their mutual home state. Last week Blueprint Polling had the race 51/39 there. Today Victory Insights has it 61/39 if “leaners” are included and 51/33 if they aren’t.

Trump getting blown out in a primary in a state he carried twice, where he easily defeated native son Marco Rubio in 2016, feels … newsy.

It also suggests that, inasmuch as DeSantis trails him in national polls, that may be little more than a name recognition problem. Florida Republicans know him well and prefer him decisively to the leader of the party. No contender who challenges Trump in 2024 can hope to match him in name ID, but with a big push from conservative donors and righty media, DeSantis should be able to close most of the gap in a national primary.

Is this it? The changing of the guard at last?

It’s jarring to see Trump trail any Republican badly in enthusiasm among GOP voters. If he’s topping out at 72 percent in that metric and a mere 58 percent are willing to call themselves “strong supporters,” the GOP is at risk of a turnout problem among Republican “leaners” in 2024 if they nominate him again. A smallish but meaningful percentage of the base that would eagerly back a more generic candidate like DeSantis either won’t pull the lever for Trump next time or will need serious persuading. The graph above illustrates succinctly how much easier the party’s task of winning would be with the new guy leading the ticket instead.

Increasingly I wonder if polls like this one might influence Trump’s decision to run. The clearer it becomes from polling that DeSantis stands a real chance of winning, the more Republican fencesitters who might otherwise name Trump as their top choice on sheer “loyalty” grounds might feel comfortable switching. And the more plausible it is that Trump will lose to his apprentice, the less likely it is that he’ll get into the race to begin with. Why not retire as two-time undisputed champion of the party than risk being ignominiously knocked out by a leaner, hungrier fighter?

Dan McLaughlin is crossing his fingers:

The true coup would be if DeSantis can bluff or persuade Trump not to run at all. It will be DeSantis’s job to convince Trump that Ron DeSantis doesn’t have a Donald Trump problem; Trump has a Ron DeSantis problem. Thus far in 2022, DeSantis has avoided confrontation. He knows that he needs a convincing reelection in Florida before he can go national. He has not said a cross word directly at Trump, and he has stayed out of primary contests outside of Florida, which Trump has been treating as proxy battles to gauge and burnish his own continuing influence within the party. At the same time, DeSantis seems not to have sought Trump’s endorsement in his own reelection bid. He has occasionally appeared to be road-testing national themes that contrast him with Trump, such as criticizing federal lockdown policies under Trump. Most of all, by showing no sign that he would defer to Trump and decline to challenge him in 2024, DeSantis is playing a serious game of chicken. Trump, for his part, has publicly bragged that he would beat DeSantis, and insists that he has not asked DeSantis whether he is running.

Trump is reportedly itching to run again, and mounting efforts to bring criminal charges against him are only going to make him more eager to do so. But he has occasionally mused aloud about age and health catching up to him. DeSantis could probably outraise him, given the sentiment among Republican donors to move on to a better general-election bet with fewer risks. Trump has to know that the worst possible thing for his reputation would be losing a Republican primary after losing a national election; nobody is going to believe it was stolen. By contrast, given his significant accomplishments in office, the instant Trump steps permanently out of active campaigning, even he will benefit from some of the halo effect that builds around former presidents.

DeSantis outraised Trump over the first six months of the year, raking in gigantic amounts for a governor and wooing many top Trump donors. The fundraising race is another signal to Mar-a-Lago that 2024 will be harder than they think.

But McLaughlin’s hope that Trump might be convinced to pass on running is almost certainly wishful thinking. Trump told a reporter last week that he’s already made his decision; the suspense lies entirely in whether it’ll happen before or after the midterms. There’s no doubt he’s getting in.

The question is whether he’ll stay in once he does.

If DeSantis starts to overtake him in primary polls, he might contrive some excuse like health issues to bow out before voting begins and spare himself the embarrassment of seeing that “his people” prefer a different candidate. “Rigged election” isn’t going to hack it to explain losing a national Republican primary.

There is one hopeful note for him in the Victory Insights poll, though:

We also asked voters whether they would want any other candidate(s) to run against Trump if he were to be the first to announce his candidacy (results are in the chart below). Interestingly, 39% of voters would prefer it if he went unopposed, which is 6% more than originally supported him for the nomination. This 39% includes some DeSantis voters and some undecided voters, suggesting that an early announcement might encourage non-Trump voters to join his camp early and discourage other candidates from even running.

There’s a certain type of bad-faith Trump apologist who’ll accuse DeSantis of “dividing the party” if he announces next year, after Trump has. Why must we endure a contested primary? It’s exactly what Democrats want! Whether that logic ends up convincing any fencesitters to stick with Trump and opt for a coronation over a contest, I don’t know. But look again at the enthusiasm numbers up top as proof that the candidate whose nomination would divide Republicans most sharply is Trump himself. DeSantis would unify MAGA voters and leaners; Trump would have MAGA plus some unknown share of the 15-20 percent that held its nose twice before to vote for him and isn’t keen to do it a third time post-insurrection.

Via Mediaite, I’ll leave you with this … interesting video posted by Fox Digital. Joe Scarborough told his viewers this morning that he believes “Fox News has left the Trump train.” I’ve wondered about that myself. Add this clip to the evidence.