Heh. I knew yesterday’s poll showing DeSantis leading him in New Hampshire would get under his skin.

“DeSantis is … the greatest threat to Trump when it comes to the Republican Party,” CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins said to Frank Luntz yesterday about the New Hampshire poll. “It’s more than a threat,” Luntz replied. “The governor is proving that his approach and what he’s trying to accomplish and what he has accomplished in Florida is more significant and Republicans are now saying it’s time to move on.”

I haven’t heard many Republicans say explicitly “it’s time to move on,” but DeSantis fever on the right certainly implies it. And Jonathan Chait is correct that a key driver of that fever is conservative media, an industry that’s spent the last five years apologizing for Trump at every turn. That’s the only way Republican influencers can safely advance the idea that it’s time to move on without alienating their audience — not with criticism of Trump (“disloyal!”) but with steady and enthusiastic promotion of an alternative.

One of the points I made in my feature story on DeSantis in March is that he is the beneficiary of a concerted effort by Republican elites to promote his candidacy. The coordination behind DeSantis is reminiscent of how the party coalesced behind George W. Bush in 1999. What had begun as a wide-open race with multiple contestants winnowed very quickly as the word got out that Bush was the pick.

Something very much like that is occurring with DeSantis. DeSantis is hoovering up cash from the party’s donor class, including the support of at least 42 billionaires. The most telling fact about the New Hampshire poll is that while DeSantis leads Trump by just two points overall, he leads among Fox News watchers by 14 points and among conservative radio listeners by 16 points. Republicans who consume conservative media are getting the message. The voters who are not yet tuned in to conservative media may still name Trump in polls, but they are likely to follow…

The Murdoch-owned media, meanwhile, is suggesting with increasing firmness that Trump step aside for DeSantis in 2024. “Tune out the Jan. 6 hearings,” editorializes the New York Post. “Unsubscribe from Trump’s daily emails begging for money. Then pick your favorite from a new crop of conservatives. Look to 2022, and 2024, and a new era.”

I noticed the “dump Trump” trend in Murdoch media too. So did Steve Bannon.

Chait dares to think the unthinkable after seeing yesterday’s New Hampshire poll, wondering whether the fact that DeSantis is already competitive with Trump means he might defeat Trump *easily* in 2024 after two more years of “being given the sort of coverage in the right-wing media that Pravda devoted to Joseph Stalin.” But that gets us back to this post about the asymmetry within the Republican Party. If hardcore Trumpers are willing to boycott the general election if Trump isn’t the nominee while the rest of the party isn’t willing to boycott if he is, doesn’t that mean the party should nominate Trump?

Trende thinks as much as 10 percent of Republicans could stay home in the general election in protest if Trump isn’t the nominee. I think that’s plausible — depending on who the nominee is. If it’s an establishmentarian like Marco Rubio or Nikki Haley or even Mike Pence, a mass boycott by MAGA voters is a real concern. Anyone who’s perceived as less of a “fighter” than Trump, less able to comprehensively own the libs and make them shed liberal tears or whatever, will be dismissed by a meaningful number of populist voters as belonging to the “uniparty.”

But what about a candidate who’s perceived as being just as much of a “fighter” as Trump, who’s as willing to own the libs as he is — and may be more effective at doing so via aggressive policy actions? Are the people who’d stay home with Rubio at the top of the ticket equally willing to stay home if DeSantis is the nominee?

Trump would want them to. He might ask them to. But if he did, he’d be gambling that loyalty to him personally is regarded by his most devout supporters as their supreme political duty. Is it? Or do they view their supreme political duty as owning the libs? With a milquetoast Republican as nominee, they might be willing to see a Democrat elected president on the theory that it doesn’t matter who wins. They might even reason that electing the Republican in those circumstances would set the MAGA movement back, as it would prove that the GOP will pay no penalty for nominating an underwhelming establishmentarian.

But, in the person of DeSantis, they’d get a nominee who *is* ostentatiously populist, pushes MAGA-friendly policies, and would almost certainly outperform Trump in a general election. What’s to be gained from boycotting the general election in those circumstances?

Would they be holding out to make sure that the party nominates Trump again in 2028, when he’ll be 82?

Yesterday’s New Hampshire poll raises an interesting dilemma for Trump on when to announce his 2024 candidacy. Rumors are swirling that he’ll get in sooner rather than later, likely before the midterms. But if he gets in soon and the polling over the next six months continues to show DeSantis closing on him or even leading him, he’ll be in a jam. The last thing he wants is to run against DeSantis and suffer the humiliation of losing, but once he’s in the race it’ll be almost as humiliating to withdraw because the polls have begun to turn sour on him. Maybe he’s better off waiting until the end of the year and then making a decision; if the polling looks bad for him, he could say, “I can’t run again because of my health” or offer some other excuse.

On the other hand, if he sits on the sidelines until 2023, that gives DeSantis even more time alone in the political spotlight to build support on the right. Exit question: What should Trump do?

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