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Why is Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign struggling?
#58: With Brian Klaas, Julia Azari, Steven Brams
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Months ago, Ron DeSantis seemed poised to seriously challenge Donald Trump for the GOP nomination for the 2024 United States presidential election. Today, his polling numbers hover just above those of Vivek Ramaswamy. We ask three US politics experts what happened.
Ron DeSantis made a serious error—as many Republicans have—by wrongly concluding that the GOP base is motivated by policy. In that fantasy world, the pathway to beating Donald Trump lies in ever-greater cultural extremism, by outflanking Trump with cruelty on the social right. Florida, DeSantis said, is where woke goes to die. But in a Republican party devoted to one man, not one slate of policy ideas, that slogan was where DeSantis’s campaign went to die. However, it certainly didn’t help that DeSantis has a smile seemingly forced by algorithm and the charisma of an ironing board.
I wrote a few months ago on my Substack, as DeSantis’ poll numbers fell, about what happened with his candidacy. Like Kamala Harris in 2020 and Scott Walker in 2016, DeSantis looked like a great, even obvious candidate on paper, but turns out to have been caught up in an emerging issue that divides the party. DeSantis’ insistence on a hard-right turn on policy toward historically marginalized groups taking on education, “critical race theory” and gay rights – may not be as popular as he expected, and might prove to divide Republicans rather than rally them to his candidacy.
DeSantis’ dismal poll numbers may reflect the structure of the GOP primary itself more than his own campaign. As I recently argued, Trump “has vociferous support from MAGA voters, who applaud his conspiratorial views on the 2020 election and his defiance of long-established norms”. In short, what draws Trump’s opponents into the fray—that Trump’s views are offensive to many voters, with many donors backing away—might also be their undoing. More opponents joining the race means a more divided opposition. However, as I argue in the aforementioned piece, a simple election reform, approval voting, would ameliorate this problem.
Four Major Challenges Facing Ron DeSantis’s Campaign. New York Times, Trip Gabriel.
Awkward Americans see themselves in Ron DeSantis. Washington Post, Ben Terris.
DeSantis Campaign Continues to Struggle to Find Its Footing. New York Times, Nicholas Nehamas.
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