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The Great Underestimation of DeSantis Starts to Unravel

This past weekend, Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) reminded voters, and a skeptical press that has spent an inordinate amount of time writing his political obituary before he even launched his candidacy, that he not only possesses the promise and nimbleness needed to be a candidate for president but that he also has the staff and network needed to pull off just the right move to strike a blow against his rival, former President Donald Trump.

People underestimate DeSantis only at their own peril.

The Florida governor began the weekend Friday in Illinois as the keynote speaker at the Lincoln Day Dinner for Peoria and Tazewell counties. The Peoria Journal Star said he drew a crowd of more than 1,100 to the Peoria Civic Center.

Early Saturday morning, DeSantis started his first campaign event in Sioux Center, Iowa, as a guest at Rep. Randy Feenstra’s annual Feenstra Family Picnic, spent time greeting folks at a classic car museum, stopped at a Pizza Ranch, and finished out the day at an unplanned event, standing on a table with his wife at Jethro’s BBQ.

All of DeSantis’ headline events went off without a hitch. In that regard, they were very similar to speeches I attended several weeks ago that he gave in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, and Akron, Ohio, where he was greeted with robust support after delivering speeches that outlined his aspirations for the country, his accomplishments as a governor and his promise to take on the cultural headwinds in our country.

DeSantis and Trump were scheduled on Saturday to be in Iowa, the state with the first-in-the-country contest for 2024, but Trump’s team canceled the event after the threat of a tornado warning. DeSantis took full advantage of his absence with an impromptu stop in the same area Trump was supposed to be, thus casting shade on the former president, who has spent months maligning DeSantis’s character.

“My better half and I have been able to be all over Iowa today, but before we went back to Florida, we wanted to come by and say hi to the people of Des Moines,” DeSantis said to a cheering and surprised crowd at the barbecue as he and his wife Casey stood on a picnic table outside. “So thank you all for coming out. It’s a beautiful night. It’s been a great day for us.”

DeSantis, to the frustration of a press hungry for a battle, has pointedly not responded to Trump’s attacks as a not-yet-declared candidate as he finished his legislative session in Florida. That vacuum has allowed polls to favor Trump for months and caused impatient pundits to underestimate DeSantis’ abilities and instincts.

DeSantis’ unscheduled stop speaks to the scope of the organization he already has in Iowa and its competency. Several Iowa Republicans said they were surprised that when Trump decided to cancel the rally, he didn’t try to do something else, even if it were on a smaller scale.

In 2016, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) won the Iowa caucus over Trump, largely on his appeal to evangelical voters, who make up the bulk of the Republican electorate in the Iowa caucus. However, Trump would go on to win over the evangelical vote in the rest of the contests and in the general election over Hillary Clinton.

Evangelicals were the most rewarded voting bloc in the Trump coalition during his presidency with his picks of Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. If Trump is failing with those same voters in Iowa, that may be a sign of a fissure in his support that could be game-changing.

For the past few months, the media have been intent on writing DeSantis off. Yet if there are two things I have learned over the years in covering presidential elections, one is to listen to what voters tell you they want, not what you think they need, and two, never, ever underestimate any candidate, especially when everyone else is.

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Notable Replies

  1. Iowa’s Steve Deace offered a choice on yesterday’s program. Good governance/sound policy vs. civil war….

    For me, Ron Desantis has been the future of America First since I first saw him tuslin’ with a “reporter”. I never understood the pure, unadulterated bullshit that has come forth from either side regarding Heavy D. Is anybody seeing the bills he’s passing in Fl? Anybody watching him take on CRT, queer theory. groomers DEI ESG big tech alphabit soup and all the other crap to emerge from the post-modern left? How about exposing unsafe and ineffective vaccines and the anti-Nuremberg coersion that goes with? Actually doing someting to allow kids to be kids. He needs to make a bold statement regarding the J6 prisoners and how slowly to hang Fauci but, other than that, he’s kickin ass and takin names with good governance and sound policy.

    Or we could have civil war - kinetic style, that is….

  2. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime candidate. He has an ideological plumb line and knows what he believes as opposed to offering a purely transactional relationship to voters. He’s offering good governance as opposed to retribution. He would be focused on the existential threat in which we will be neck-deep on January 21, 2025 as opposed to rehashing and relitigating the 2020 election. It’s difficult for me to imagine anyone duping him into turning over the last 10 months of his presidency to the swamp he ran on draining or using his feet for target practice at every chance presented. I know its 2023 and we, seemingly, can’t have nice things…but just this one time? Aren’t we due for a break?

  3. Huh. It would seem that many DeSantis fans have no concept of messaging or strategy or positioning. Let enlighten you. DeSantis brand is essentially MAGA 2.0 or being a better version of Trump. Whether you like this or admit this, it’s true. He’s competing with the standard bearer for his own ideals. This is like selling against IBM with a product that’s a copy with some upgrades. While I’m in the room the customer is interested but when I go away, the IBM rep comes in and says, “You want the copy or the real thing?” And then assures them of all the good stuff coming in the ‘next release’ and boom, you lose to IBM. Again. Now if I actually want to win, I come in with a completely different approach and value proposition and put IBM on defense. But I can’t win by saying, we are just like them - only better. I do this for a living, so you may not see it as clearly as I do.

    Even worse? DeSantis supporters are the most rabid Never Trumpers and Trump Derangement Syndrome sufferers. I see them on twitter, they are insanely unhinged and bashing Trump nonstop in the most nasty way possible, from paid accounts I’d guess. It’s a horrible vibe and look.

    Until the CNN town hall, I was still a bit hesitant on backing Trump. I’ve always been mixed on him and didn’t vote for him in 2016 (didn’t vote for hillary either) but did so with no regrets in 2020. However his post-election performance has been uneven and I was unsure if he still has it. Well, he showed very clearly that he’s sharper than ever and prepared to battle these leftist maniacs. I came away from that event convinced he has learned something and is putting together a coherent plan and approach to governing.

  4. “Winning” a town hall with a CNN hostess with the IQ of a fence post is all it takes, huh?

    When you fall back on this “Trump Derangement Syndrome” it means you have nothing. One needn’t be deranged to want someone with some substance for a change.

    Is it deranged to notice when Trump says something like…“He signed six weeks, and many people within the pro-life movement feel that that was too harsh”? Protecting babies with a discernable heartbeat is too harsh, you see? Nobody who is Pro-Life ever thinks protecting babies is too harsh". Only life-long, morally pliable democrats who have a hero-cult to fool do that. This kind of thing shows he’s rudderless, stupid, and reflexively anti-whatever DeSantis said that particular day. Funny thing is; know who else has a 6-week ban on abortion? Iowa and South Carolina. I’m sure it will be deranged to point out his inconsistency then as he backpedals and then calls Casey DeSantis ugly.

    You were more right when you were noticing his post-election unevenness as he campaigned for pfizer’s salesman-of-the-year while claiming he saved millions of lives with his clot shot.

  5. TDS is a recognized mental disorder with mental health professionals ready to help. Why not call a therapist today and get on the road to recovery? Fyi, you aren’t even responding to what I said, rather you are spinning my comments and deconstructing them like some leftist lunatic and then spewing juvenile hyperbole at me. This is how DeSantis supporters are, retread Never Trumpers. You’re gross. You’re unhinged. Last. Trump is not my hero. I’m actually quite mixed about him and I don’t personally ID as “MAGA” even. I just don’t have TDS. I process information rationally but you aren’t capable of it cuz of TDS. It’s a serious mental disorder, you should get some help ASAP.

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