I was, am, and will remain bullish that DeSantis still stands a chance at the 2024 nomination, at least as long as you-know-who isn’t indicted. In the bizarro world of modern-day Republican morality, criminal charges against Trump really would seal the primaries for him.
But I’m willing to admit it when I find evidence that undercuts my thesis. This new poll from New Hampshire isn’t great.
After all, it was a poll of New Hampshire in June that set the commentariat on fire when it showed DeSantis leading Trump in a hypothetical primary there, 39/37. That survey was conducted by UNH whereas today’s data comes from St. Anselm, so we can’t say definitively based on the two that there’s now been a shift.
But it feels shifty.
St Anselm Poll shows strong lead for Trump among New Hampshire Republicans in 2024 Republican Primary
Donald Trump – 50%
Ron DeSantis – 29%
Liz Cheney – 4%
Nikki Haley – 3%
Mike Pence – 3%
Ted Cruz – 1%
Mike Pompeo – 1%
Larry Hogan – 0%
— InteractivePolls (@IAPolls2022) August 19, 2022
From DeSantis +2 to Trump +21. Maybe the “rally ’round the document thief” effect following the search of Mar-a-Lago really has ended the 2024 “DeSantasy,” as one Trump advisor put it.
If that doesn’t convince you that the backlash to the search has improved Trump’s political fortunes, how about this?
A poll from The Economist/YouGov published on Thursday shows that 57 percent of those who identified as Republican now have a very favorable view of the former president.
That’s a notable increase from the same poll the previous week, which showed that 45 percent of Republicans said their view of Trump was very favorable. The former president’s overall favorability with Republicans remained unchanged at 80 percent.
Interestingly, YouGov also saw a bounce in the share of Republicans who say they’re more enthusiastic to vote in this year’s election than in previous elections. Before Mar-a-Lago, that share was 45 percent; afterward it was 51 percent. Merrick Garland may have saved the midterms for the GOP!
There’s some good news for DeSantis fans too, though. The only chance he has of knocking Trump off in a primary is by convincing GOP voters that he’d outperform Trump in a general election against Biden. And the only chance he has of convincing them of that is by running up the score in his gubernatorial election this fall. Per the latest poll from Florida’s Chamber of Commerce, he’s on his way:
DeSantis (R-inc) 51% (+8)
Crist (D) 43%
DeSantis (R-inc) 50% (+7)
Fried (D) 43%
— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) August 19, 2022
Fifty percent is a good place to be in mid-August if you’re a Republican incumbent, especially in a state like Florida where polling recently has tended to underestimate GOP candidates. If inflation begins to tick up again this fall, it’s easy to imagine DeSantis winning by double digits. That would give Republican presidential voters something to think about.
Whatever the margin ends up being, I think DeSantis has to make a move in 2024 that establishes him firmly as Trump’s heir apparent. He can do that by running and knocking Trump off in the primary or he can do that by campaigning behind the scenes to be Trump’s running mate, a pairing Republican voters would love even if Trump wouldn’t. What he can’t do is sit on his laurels as governor for another four years and expect to be the frontrunner in 2028, when he’ll have been out of office for two years. This crazy party is getting crazier by the day, enough so that DeSantis will probably seem tame by the standards of the 2028 right-wing populist vanguard. Jonathan Last has a piece today arguing that the governor has already begun to seem stale relative to true-blue nuts like Kari Lake. Six years from now, she’ll be a better fit for the party than he will.
One of the fundamental appeals of Donald Trump was his unpredictability. You knew that when Trump took the stage, anything could happen. Depending on your view, this was either energizing or terrifying.
DeSantis gives you none of that. He’s a disciplined pol. He’s never going to suggest that you ingest bleach or say that he’ll pay for your legal bills if you punch a protestor. Hell, he even outsources his Twitter triggering to his staff so that he’s not personally on the hook for the stuff he has them say on his behalf.
There’s a reason that Donald Trump did not need a Christina Pushaw, but Ron DeSantis does…
If she wins the governorship in Arizona, I think she instantly becomes the leading candidate for Trump’s VP and the most obvious heir to the MAGA throne. And whatever happens to Lake, I suspect that Trumpism’s heir will be more like her and less like DeSantis.
Right, DeSantis is a pre-Trump establishment Republican who’s gotten good enough at pandering to culture warriors to make himself the second choice of GOP voters for president in 2024. Lake, by contrast, seems to have been bitten by the Trump bug sometime after 2016 and since then has sincerely developed into a hardcore election-denying crank. Even now, DeSantis won’t flatly say that the election was stolen; he’s too calculating and too worried about swing voters to fully commit. Crazy Kari will talk your ear off about it. If she becomes governor and starts waging a full-blown populist culture war of her own in Arizona, chances are high that some of the MAGA voters who have DeSantis as their current second choice will begin to reconsider.
I think Last is wrong that Lake will be Trump’s candidate for VP if she wins. His advisors will persuade him that a Trump/Lake ticket would be a little too “extra,” shall we say, for the average suburban voter and that he’s better off with a more presentable cult member as his running mate, like Elise Stefanik. But Last is certainly right that if DeSantis doesn’t elbow his way onto the national ticket somehow in 2024, he’s at great risk of being surpassed by Lake or Doug Mastriano or some other as-yet-unknown nutter as the fightin’-est populist in all the land come 2028. His moment is now, even if the odds of winning are longer than they were two weeks ago.