Something is wrong with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s 2024 Republican campaign for president.
This much has been evident for a couple months now, as the once sure-thing main rival to former president Donald Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination continues to tread water in the polls and appears to be seeking the right combination of personnel and message to allow him to gain the traction that was supposed to be there from his announcement day on.
Lots of folks, myself included, are left in suspense as to why DeSantis hasn’t made a much bigger splash in this year’s presidential campaign. Is it him? Is it something he said? A policy or two? Does he just need more time? Conservative minds want to know. In an article titled “Personality or policies: Iowans are split on what is tripping up DeSantis”, Naomi Lim reported at the Washington Examiner:
“Prospective Iowa Republican primary caucusgoers are pointing to Gov. Ron DeSantis's (R-FL) policies, rather than his personality, as another reason he is not connecting with the electorate. The feedback coincides with DeSantis's decision to focus more on policy, including with an economic address in New Hampshire [last] Monday, amid a slump in early polls compared to nomination front-runner former President Donald Trump and problems with small dollar fundraising.
“Before a Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) town hall in Ankeny, retired Grand Junction independent Dean Lyons, 58, queried DeSantis's strategy to run to the right of Trump as his campaign reconsiders its tactics, such as being more nationally oriented, granting more traditional media interviews, and participating in his first bus tour of Iowa before last week's Iowa Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser.
“’He's in trouble,’ Lyons told the Washington Examiner of DeSantis. ‘I think it's his message. I think he's almost too far that way. And I'm going to be honest with you: If they elect Trump, [President Joe] Biden will be in again. And I think DeSantis, he was supposed to be the man, and he just hasn't caught fire.’”
Forget catching fire. Right now, I think Gov. Ron would settle for a boy scout with a BIC lighter hovering over a pile of wet campfire wood to try and start a flame rather than continue the way he has been for the recent past couple months. Nothing the highly successful Sunshine State chief executive does appears to hold the attention of voters, which has to be frustrating for a relatively young politician who’s seen nothing but victories for a long time now.
DeSantis is clearly flailing. The million-dollar question in DeSantis-land is why what had worked so well in his own confines isn’t sparking much interest vis-à-vis Donald Trump in other states with populations similarly forward-looking and freedom loving. Iowa has very little in common with Florida in terms of climate or industry, but both states boast conservative populations with people who know their issues. Technically speaking, DeSantis should be burning like an inferno in the Hawkeye State. But he’s not.
I believe some of the problem was built in from day one. DeSantis faced a practically insurmountable barrier in Iowa and other places heading into the 2024 primary race, simply because he’s not like Trump. That’s a pretty simple explanation, right?
In my eight years of study of the political side of Donald Trump, I’ve concluded that a major part of Trump’s appeal is the fact he’s unlike anyone who’s played the political game in contemporary American political history. Does this mean he’s the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time)? No. But it does give him a niche that no one else could hope to fill because his spiel is one part entertainment, two parts substantive button-pushing on so-called “hot button” issues and three parts prevalence.
Trump is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He disdains the retail politicking that politicians from both parties have undertaken for… well, as long as anyone can remember. Rather than board a bus and make the “Full Grassley” in Iowa (meaning, visit each of Iowa’s 99 counties during the lead-up to the caucuses), Trump must’ve figured he could cover a lot more ground by hiring locals to set-up rally venues and then take an “If you organize it, they will come” philosophy towards gathering names and data, etc.
Local and national media loves the eyeballs and viewers that follow Trump’s big events and they provide all the coverage – and then some – that Trump would want to ensure that his assemblies are “the talk” of the news cycle. It makes him look even “bigger” than he already is, and Trump doesn’t need much help to seem larger than life. He has “Trump Force One”, the 757 with the Trump name emblazoned on it. He’s got the distinctive hair, the characteristic mannerisms, the facial expressions, the hand gestures – all unique to the man.
Even those who can’t stand Trump are still drawn to him, kind of like being fascinated by news footage of a crime or a tragedy in progress. I personally recollect not being able to leave the TV screen when the police chase of O.J. Simpson was in progress (June, 1994), even though we were essentially just watching a White Ford Bronco traveling on an empty freeway.
And then there was the rioting (a few years previous) after the Rodney King verdicts, with out-of-control thugs and hoods breaking into stores, stealing stuff, hitting anonymous truckers (Reginald Denny) with bricks and perpetrating mayhem before our very eyes. It was like witnessing history as it was being written, wasn’t it? (And yes, the same thing happened three years ago during the George Floyd summer of leftist destruction, too).
Trump is hardly akin to a riot as it happens or seeing OJ being chased by half the L.A. police force, but the “hey, look at that!” quality is very similar to those watching something transpiring live. Trump is so heartily unpredictable that some people watch just to see what odd or outlandish (to the sensitive) thing he’ll say this time. Trump doesn’t conform to accepted political decorum. He doesn’t care about the “beautiful people” liking him. Trump loves ratings, but only when they occur naturally – i.e., because of him.
Therefore, DeSantis was up against Trump’s celebrity from day one. I’m not privy to conversations among the Florida governor’s political advisors, but I’m guessing they surmised Trump would be weakened by the ongoing investigations, leaks, courtroom proceedings and various other “baggage” attached to the former president’s 2024 re-nomination efforts.
It could also be that he (DeSantis) overestimated the damage done to Trump from the January 6 episode. Remember how outraged everyone, including many, many, conservatives, were as the incident was still fresh in everyone’s mind? A whole lotta head shakin’ goin’ on, that’s for sure. But, as time went on and the picture of what happened became clearer, and the Democrats went way beyond sanity in depicting the four-hour “riot”, Trump’s reputation slowly revived.
Trump remained the same the whole time, essentially doing what Trump does – generate headlines – without any single blip sticking to his campaign hulk.
Another explanation – DeSantis clearly underestimated the strength and intensity of Trump’s backing. Not only did Trump have the numbers, he had the depth of following that any successful incumbent enjoys. When Trump started the race with at least a double-digit lead that never wavered, a person’s natural inclination is to always, always, give the frontrunner due consideration – simply because he or she will probably win.
Trump certainly realized this, which is one reason why he so fondly touts his poll numbers every chance he gets. And it’s not as though DeSantis will be starting each Iowa appearance with the announcement, “Hey, a poll came out yesterday that showed me cutting Trump’s lead from 35 points down to 32! Can’t you just feel the momentum!”
DeSantis faces the dual task of trying to introduce himself to a large swatch of the Republican primary electorate while also selling an issue platform that is similar to Trump’s on the surface, all the while avoiding most direct criticism of Trump that could be construed as harsh and disrespectful. Gov. Ron never could afford to give Trump the Chris Christie treatment – that’s an instant loser for any legitimate contender (of which Christie is NOT).
Another possible reason DeSantis hasn’t caught on is he doesn’t appear to be following his instinct. Or, to put it another way, Gov. Ron cares too much what is said and written about him. Trump has always enjoyed the freedom of being his own advice counselor built in to his eternally confident demeanor. It’s one of the reasons why Trump’s interviews are always fascinating, because only he knows what he’s going to say, and often doesn’t think about it until he's already said the words.
DeSantis, somewhat understandably, is more hesitant to let go. And because many voters are still getting to know DeSantis, he’s susceptible to the branding attempts of his opponents – and the always heinous establishment media.
“He’s too conservative!” “He was too mean to Disney, that was a mistake!” “Moderates don’t like him because he won’t listen to the other side!” “All his popularity in Florida is an illusion because he won’t talk to the media!” “He’s too uncompromising, and voters outside of his own state won’t take to his style!” And it goes on and on.
Ron DeSantis is far from defeated in the 2024 Republican primary race, but there’s no question that he needs to turn on the proverbial political afterburners and heat up… soon. This month’s debate should allow for DeSantis to share more of what he offers, and hopefully will give Americans a better view of how effective a president DeSantis could be. For now, wait and see.
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