President Biden officially entered the race with a broadside against his opposition which if the polls are any indication is likely to be former President Trump, setting up a rematch of the oldest in history. Meanwhile, Governor DeSantis’ supporters are close to freaking out…
A mere six months ago, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was the great hope of establishment-leaning conservatives and populists, propelled by the combination of his landslide victory in his reelection bid and a poor performance overall by Republicans in the midterms which was promptly blamed on his chief competitor, former President Donald Trump. The thinking was simple: Governor DeSantis could hold together the Trump coalition without the drama of the man himself, making him more palatable to suburban voters and less divisive overall. Thus, a permanently weakened former President would open a clear path for the successful governor to win the Republican nomination and ultimately the White House. Politics, however, rarely moves in a straight, easily predictable line, and a confluence of events outside Governor DeSantis’s control – including the revelation that current President Joe Biden is embroiled in his own confidential documents scandal and the seemingly politically motivated indictment of Donald Trump – have completely upended the race and, in the short term at least, have supercharged the former President’s campaign. Polls at this point are not predictive, but they cannot be encouraging to the Governor’s supporters. President Trump leads in the Real Clear Politics average by a whopping 29 points, clearing the 50% mark in a race that includes the Florida Governor, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott, and others. In some polls, the former President’s lead is as high as 37 points.
Confronted with this new reality, opponents of President Trump have done what they’ve always done. Rail against the former President for running an aggressive campaign and insist he will not prevail this time or at least should not prevail. Rich Lowry, one of the original Never Trumpers, opined in The New York Post, “The conventional wisdom has turned so decidedly against the Florida governor that he’s getting buried a couple of months before he even announces. There’s flaming out on the launch pad, and there’s flaming out while you’re drinking a cup of coffee early in the morning at your home before getting in a car to drive to Cape Canaveral to check in for your mission. It’s the latter that’s supposedly happening to DeSantis.” Mr. Lowry disagreed with this assessment rather gently, giving the sense that he knows it to be true. In his view, “It’s wrong to characterize the last couple of months as a loss for DeSantis. His book was a success, and he’s in the process of racking up an impressive string series of victories during this Florida legislative session. But there’s no doubt he’s hit turbulence,” and also “never forcefully hit back at Donald Trump, even though the former president has made slamming the governor one of his favorite pastimes.” Ultimately, he concluded with the overwhelmingly obvious, “What we have definitely learned the last couple months is that Donald Trump isn’t going to fade away. He is the odds-on favorite to be the Republican nominee a third time in a row, and if he is going to be stopped someone is going to have to go out and affirmatively beat him. Can DeSantis — or in the right circumstances someone else — do that? It’s an enormous task, but the governor shouldn’t be counted out before he’s in.” Here lies one of the ironies that has always underpinned a potential DeSantis victory. The argument in his favor relies on him being a no-drama alternative to the former President, but in order to be that type of candidate, he cannot be perceived as wading in the political mud. He must be above the petty day to day of a campaign to preserve his image, and that strategy only works if his chief competitor is weakened enough that he can slip through unscathed.
President Trump, however, has no such limitations and is proving to be as shameless as he ever was, attacking a potential DeSantis campaign before it’s even officially announced. This has led Mr. Lowry’s colleague, Karol Markowicz, also writing for The New York Post, to lament on how “the GOP [primary] has already descended into a disgusting spiral of lies and insanity — because of the increasingly disordered and amateurish Donald Trump campaign.” In her view, President Trump and “the not-very-smart people around him, have decided that for him to win the primary he needs to not only destroy Florida’s extremely popular Gov. Ron DeSantis (who has not yet even announced a presidential run), but also to demolish all of DeSantis’ conservative policies and practices that have been so wildly successful in the sunshine state.” As a case in point, Ms. Markowicz cited a recent advertisement that accused the governor of leaving “a wake of destruction all across Florida and people are hurting because he has spent more time playing public relations games instead of actually doing the hard-work needed to improve the lives of the people he represents.” The ad referenced “facts” from a leftist think tank that identified Florida as one the most expensive places to live and the worst to work. Ms. Markowicz concluded “It’s understandable that Trump is threatened by DeSantis. Should the governor enter the race, he’d be a very formidable candidate. But Trump is not just slamming an exceptional Republican governor with his stupid attacks, he’s attacking the very best Republican policies and the model Republican state.” There is some truth to this, but what does Ms. Markowicz believe the Democrats are going to do, argue that Ron DeSantis has an excellent record? If the Governor cannot overcome attacks on this supposedly excellent record from a Republican opponent, he will have no chance against what the Democrats and the mainstream media will unleash should he win the primary.
Meanwhile, President Biden announced his bid for re-election yesterday and appears ready to unleash both fire and brimstone on the Republican candidate. In case anyone thought otherwise, he is most certainly not running on “Morning in America,” a strong economy, peace around the world, or a single one of his so-called accomplishments. Instead, he’s positioning himself in opposition to the so-called “ultra MAGA agenda” and the accompanying threat to democracy, the same as it ever was. “This is not a time to be complacent,” the President declared, we are “battling for the soul of America.” “Every generation has a moment where they have to stand up for democracy. To stand up for their fundamental freedoms. I believe this is ours,” an accompanying post on Twitter proclaimed. The fault lines are clear: Whatever Republicans propose, whoever they run, whatsoever they say and however they say it, they and their policies will be branded as a threat to the very fabric of the country and the only savior for America at large is, of course, Joe Biden. This will be the battle ground and every policy Ms. Markowicz touts will be rebranded fascist, authoritarian, and retrograde regardless of the truth. The President makes these bold claims while others ponder his relative weakness. President Barack Obama’s political guru David Axelrod recently wondered why no “Democrat is posing a serious [primary] challenge?” “Biden, who is expected to formalize his plans next week, has a significant body of achievements on which to run. But continued concerns about the economy and his age and capacities – he would be a record-breaking 82 at the time of his second inauguration – have bogged him down.” Even “among Democrats, Biden’s polling is ambiguous. Around 8 in 10 approve of the job the president is doing, but less than half say they want him to run again – and just 44% say they believe he’s the party’s strongest candidate. (These numbers have actually improved in recent weeks.)” Likewise, The New York Times finally appeared to notice that the President seems exceptionally brittle and can barely get through an event without meandering into some non-sequitur. “Mr. Biden has given voters very few chances to do just that — to watch him — and his refusal to engage with the public regularly raises questions about his age and health.”
In principle, Governor DeSantis’ age and obvious vitality should be an asset in this fight, considering the former President is only a few years younger than the current occupant of the Oval Office, but herein lies the second irony. The Governor’s “no drama” electability argument does not seem to be accurate, at least at this early stage. In fact, he polls only slightly better against President Biden than Trump, 1.9 points higher compared to 1.3 in the latest Real Clear Politics average, meaning both men are about even with the likely Democrat candidate despite Trump’s supposed drama and controversy bordering on toxicity. This slight difference does not an electability argument make, which is probably why Florida Republicans in the House of Representatives are rapidly lining up behind the former President. Love it or hate it, we live in a highly polarized age where politics is closer to a steel cage match of words, innuendo, and outright lies than any rational contest. President Biden is already telegraphing that he will use the same tired playbook of the last two campaigns, and Governor DeSantis’ no-drama, above the fray approach does not seem to be working against even President Trump. Where does that leave him in a general election? This should not be perceived as a knock on the Governor or his accomplishments, but sometimes the man makes the times, others, the times make the man. Personally, I have never been convinced that he was going to enter a primary that President Trump appeared to be dominating. As I wrote after the midterms last year, the one’s political demise is exaggerated and the others rise equally so. DeSantis is tough, but he’s no streetfighter and he’s sharp enough to know that the President’s supporters are incredibly loyal. There is no path for him that I can see with Trump in the way, hence the panic from his supporters. They would do well to consider that President Trump himself leads Biden in most polls, and is as well positioned for victory in the general election as their preferred candidate. Perhaps even more so given the ground on which this will ultimately be fought.