TURES COLUMN: Why Donald Trump is beating Ron DeSantis

Published 11:30 am Thursday, March 9, 2023

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Ever since Donald Trump burst on to the political scene in 2015, traditional Republicans have sought an alternative.  Florida Governor Ron DeSantis briefly took a lead over the past few months, but he’s since lost his front-runner status back to Trump.  Here’s why, and what the party will need to do to best the former President.

It was an embarrassing moment for Governor DeSantis.  At a restaurant in Ponte Vedra Beach Florida, Fox News’ broadcaster and celebrity Brian Kilmeade sought to find supporters for the state’s chief executive, who would back DeSantis over Trump.  He couldn’t find one. Even the lone diner sporting something for DeSantis admitted she’s on the fence. Trump fans gleefully hyped this painful message on social media.

It’s a far cry from the end of 2022, when Trump backed celebrity-candidates lost their elections.

DeSantis, fresh from a much better electoral showing in 2022 than in 2018 against a stronger candidate, looked to be a better nominee. He even led Trump in polls.  Now the Florida Governor has plunged in surveys against Trump, now losing by several percentage points in polls (and Trump is not doing as well against Biden). What happened?

Some in the media will point to the dumb nicknames Trump conjured up (Ron DeSanctimonious, Meatball Ron) as the reason, or those bizarre attempts to claim DeSantis is a pedophile. Those aren’t the reason. Jeb Bush’s praise for Ron DeSantis occurred after the current Florida Governor fell in the polls, though the fact that Bush walked it back somewhat, claiming it wasn’t really an endorsement, is telling. The Bush family is probably also looking for someone else.

Here’s where DeSantis stumbled badly … twice. It was his blind pursuit of the Trump vote, both in domestic and in foreign policy, that put him at odds with traditional Republicans.

First, he broke with most Americans and a majority of the GOP, when it comes to saving Ukraine. By moving away from defending the Ukrainian people from genocide, and taking the side of ex-KGB leader Vladimir Putin who has clearly stated a desire to rebuild the Soviet Union (and this includes smashing the Pro-West democratic Ukraine, and likely more). DeSantis’ snapping at a reporter over his own failure to articulate how he would differ with Biden on Ukraine was telling. DeSantis will have a hard time explaining things when opponents can show DeSantis supporting Ukraine while in Congress, and now this unwise flip-flop.

The second serious error comes from DeSantis’ war on business in Florida. I understand canceling a special governance deal for Disney, but publicly creating a group to control Disney’s content should terrify pro-business Republicans.  He’s also gone after banks for their investment practices.  If he signs more of those crazy bills advancing through the legislature would reinforce the critics’ perception of Florida as an authoritarian state.

New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program “I’m just trying to remind folks what we are at our core. And if we’re trying to beat the Democrats at being big government authoritarians, remember what’s going to happen. Eventually, they’ll have power in a state or in a position and then they’ll start penalizing conservative businesses and conservative nonprofits and conservative ideas. That is the worst precedent in the world. That’s exactly what the founding fathers tried not to- tried to avoid. And so I’m trying to remind my conservative friends about federalism, free markets and being for the voter first, being for the individual.”

Unless DeSantis starts moving away from trying to be Trump-Lite, he’s going to fall further behind, and might lose to someone closer to the median American voter, like Governor Sununu.