DeSantis, Inc. Underestimates Donald Trump

The 2024 Republican presidential primary has hardly begun, but a consensus has already formed in conservative media that Donald Trump is toxic and unelectable. This narrative, commonplace but seldom challenged, is being pushed aggressively by pundits who are obviously partial to Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Many of these personalities insist that Trump has an obligation to step aside, and they pretend that Trump is attacking DeSantis unprovoked, despite the governor’s obvious intentions to run.

The DeSantis hype is not limited to media personalities, but their lockstep support of the governor is out of sync with the Republican base, where Trump remains quite popular. The self-satisfied euphoria of predestined victory that has swept across DeSantis, Inc. needs a reality check, and it may just get one before long. The reality is that the DeSantis narrative, with its overemphasis on a facile notion of “electability,” is based on a tendentious and superficial reading of recent history and our present political situation. Moreover, it is a reading the MAGA base overwhelmingly rejects. 

Most critically, the overconfidence of the pro-DeSantis camp often comes paired with a complacency about elections. While some might find it futile to keep pressing the matter, the 2020 election was a sham, and it would be a fatal mistake to trust any man to challenge the Left who willingly echoes their fabricated history of the subject. Yet, this is exactly what DeSantis is now doing, with his own Pollyannish spin. “In my case,” he said recently, “not only did we win reelection, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has had in the history of the state of Florida.” While not naming Trump, DeSantis, sounding a cutesy, above-it-all tone, left little doubt about his meaning. 

It is not surprising, given DeSantis’ obvious ambition to replace Trump, that he would downplay election integrity and reject Trump’s “Big Lie.” But DeSantis’ position puts him at odds with the majority of Republican voters, even those who are skeptical of Trump, who share his belief that he was robbed of a second term and that our elections remain fatally broken. DeSantis’ measured actions on this issue also leave reason to doubt his commitment to taking on the corrupt establishment. He could easily ban the scourge of no-excuse mail-in voting, for example, but this would require him to change how things have been done in Florida since 2002 (incidentally, when George W. Bush was in the White House.) 

If DeSantis is a once-in-a-lifetime political talent, he hasn’t proven it yet. Trump already has. His 2016 upset was the biggest shock in modern American history, and despite what revisionists on the Left and the Right say, he narrowly “lost” re-election under some of the most adversarial circumstances an incumbent has ever faced. Democrats weaponized hysteria over a pandemic and racial unrest, completely changed the nation’s voting habits, and systematically suppressed a major corruption scandal about Joe Biden. Despite unprecedented headwinds, Trump “lost” by about 50,000 votes. It’s easy to forget now, but many Democrats were outraged at the time that Trump came so close to a second term. 

It’s too early to divine what the political climate will look like in 2024, but a Trump-Biden rematch is not destined to be a repeat of 2020. Democrats seem to have tapped out the COVID “emergency” at last, and Democrats will be left with defending Biden’s disastrous record of failure. Notwithstanding challenges with mail-in voting, the historic, contrived chaos that the shadowy “cabal”—to use the memorable phrase of Time’s Molly Ball—orchestrated to force Trump out of power was an aberration that cannot easily be replicated (if for no other reason than that Trump is not the incumbent). A post-COVID election might also work against DeSantis, who has built a political brand largely as a crusader against lockdowns and vaccines (which he initially supported.) 

The DeSantis camp also underestimates the power of the media to shape, even to dictate, public opinion. Trump has a rare political agelessness, an ability to avoid being defined by the endless ephemeral scandals pumped out by the press. DeSantis, while decades younger, has little charisma and shows nothing of Trump’s killer instinct or his street smarts. While Trump takes the press by the collar, DeSantis appears almost obsessed with tweaking the media, tailoring his stunts to provoke a reaction. He is a slave to the news cycle, in this way, not unlike your typical soundbite-spewing Republican on Fox News. 

Like so many commonplaces one finds on the lips of talking heads, “electability” may prove to be a confection of partisans blinded by their own preferences. DeSantis might look “electable” for now, but he has been playing the game on easy mode. He has been puffed up with endless praise by Fox News, despite facing little resistance in imposing his “anti-woke” agenda. Sure, he has dealt with his fair share of mean headlines, but nothing like the scorched-earth, whole-of-society persecution Trump has endured, and overcome, since entering politics. 

Somehow, despite being investigated more times than any man in American political history and being compared to Hitler virtually every day for the past seven years, Trump is, at this hour, topping Joe Biden in the polls, including with the elusive “independent voter.” This is the man who we are told to believe “can’t win” because he isn’t smooth enough for suburban moms. 

Monday morning quarterbacks on the Right tend to exaggerate Trump’s failures and whitewash the unprecedented opposition he has faced from every angle. That he is still competitive at this stage is a testament to his extraordinary character, which remains, as always, underestimated by his critics. 

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About Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a Mt. Vernon fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a staff writer and weekly columnist at the Conservative Institute. His writing has also appeared in the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter @matt_boose. ‏

Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images