It's happening: DeSantis now within eight of Trump in national primary poll

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

This is the single most encouraging poll DeSantis has received yet.

I know, he’s led Trump outright in a couple of others. But those were state polls. And each of those states can be dismissed as something of an outlier. One was of DeSantis’s home state of Florida, where he suffers no deficit of name recognition, and the other was of New Hampshire. And New Hampshire’s always been … quirky. “Mavericky.” Bernie Sanders won the last two primaries there. McCain won the primary in 2000. Pat Buchanan(!) won it four years before that.

We can’t extrapolate too much from New Hampshire and Florida. But from a national poll, conducted by a pollster as respected as Suffolk? Yeah, I think we can do a little extrapolating.

If Trump wasn’t worried about DeSantis before, he should be now.

Congratulations to Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, and Mike Pompeo on running behind Liz Cheney.

Forty-two percent is not a good showing for the man who owns the Republican Party, particularly when the second-place candidate is less than 10 points behind. As others have noted, despite the crowded field tested here by Suffolk, this isn’t 2016 redux in which Trump locks down his 40 percent and the rest splits roughly evenly among a dozen candidates. This is a de facto two-man race. And because it is, we can guess which of those two would get the lion’s share of the votes that are currently going to Haley et al.

In fact, we don’t have to guess. Suffolk also polled voters on who their second choice is. When that percentage is combined with the numbers above, DeSantis leads outright.

Dig into the crosstabs on the first-place vote and you’ll find that support for the two candidates divides along educational lines. Among Republicans who didn’t finish college, Trump leads DeSantis by double digits. But the two are tied at 40 percent apiece among college grads and DeSantis leads by 16 among postgrads. Unsurprisingly, differences of opinion are similar when you focus on income. Trump doubles DeSantis’s support among those making less than $50,000 per year, 50/24. But among all Republicans making less than $100,000 per year, they’re tied at 34 percent. And among those making more than $140,000, DeSantis leads 46/35.

It’s MAGA versus the country-clubbers in 2024, except DeSantis might be able to poach just enough from Trump’s base to tip the primary.

Trump plays it cool in public but he’s aware of the threat here. “The former president has asked friends about how Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist is performing in his bid to take on Mr. DeSantis in November—implying, according to people familiar with the discussions, he wants his understudy to sweat a little,” the WSJ reported earlier this week. Another source told the paper that Trump is looking for angles of attack against DeSantis but has been obliged to hold off for now: “Trump wants to find something harder to say but really can’t because DeSantis has played it well.”

As always, he’s paying especially close attention to Fox News. This recent segment wasn’t well-received at Mar-a-Lago:

Interestingly, Fox also snubbed Trump on Tuesday when he delivered his first speech in Washington since leaving office but did cover Mike Pence’s speech earlier that same day — in its entirety, carrying the address live. The Times also points out that when Trump spoke at a rally for Kari Lake in Arizona at 10 p.m. ET last Friday, Laura Ingraham’s show opted not to cover it. Her special guest that night instead was … Ron DeSantis.

I’ve half-joked before about Murdoch media turning away from Trump and towards the new guy but it’s turning more serious by the day. And Trump is taking notes.

In recent months, according to two people familiar with the matter, the twice-impeached ex-president has routinely obsessed over Fox’s coverage of him versus his potential Republican primary rivals. That obsession kicks up a notch when it comes to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. One source recalled Trump suddenly dropping into conversation a question regarding how much Fox News airtime DeSantis had enjoyed lately.

In private discussions, Trump has cataloged which major on-air personalities, hosts, and shows he views as steadfastly all-in “for Trump,” which ones he sees as possibly defecting, and which he deems “against Trump.” For instance, Trump views Sean Hannity as firmly in his column, and has expressed some doubt about which camp Laura Ingraham might end up in come 2024. Per usual, the former president has also asked certain confidants for their opinions on which Fox News regulars and right-wing media stars might be jumping ship from Team Trump.

Other Republicans know what it’s like to lose the “Fox News primary” and complained about it in 2016 when Trump benefited. I wonder how far Fox will go to promote DeSantis next year knowing that Trump’s own complaints might cost the network viewers. That was the point of his whining about “Fox & Friends” this week, I assume — it was a little shot across the bow to keep Murdoch’s network on side so that he’s not forced to urge his fans to watch Newsmax instead. It worked!