DeSantis Well-Positioned

The 2024 presidential race is about to begin and most of the political discussion involves whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, or anyone else, can deny former President Donald Trump the Republican nomination.

At this point, Gov. DeSantis appears to be Mr. Trump’s most serious potential challenger and it is surprising we have not seen some of the lesser-known potential candidates jumping into the race to get an early start on making up some of the ground that separates them from both Trump and the Florida Governor. These potential contenders not yet becoming formal candidates could be playing into Gov. DeSantis’ hands.

Most political observers believe that Gov. DeSantis would be a stronger general election candidate, presumably now against President Joe Biden, than would be Trump. As we all know, the former President, as the incumbent, lost to Biden in 2020, and there may be little reason to think the outcome would be different in 2024.

If there was a big Republican winner in the 2022 election it was Gov. DeSantis. Racking up a 1.51 million vote win over former Governor and ex-US Rep. Charlie Crist (D) was a major feat, and his campaign message giving voters a reason to vote for him as opposed to the national Republican strategy that heavily emphasized negative attacks against the Democrats paid dividends.

The DeSantis landslide victory drew serious national political attention and portrayed him as a national figure who could potentially wrest the presidential nomination away from Mr. Trump.

Presidential state polls are beginning to surface, and a recently released Moore Information South Carolina survey (1/18-24; 450 SC likely Republican primary voters; live interview) finds former President Trump leading the GOP field in one of the top early primary states while Gov. DeSantis follows. The surprise result is that both South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and the Palmetto State’s former Governor and ex-UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, each of who appears to be testing the waters for their own presidential run, fare poorly on the ballot test question.

According to the MI numbers, Mr. Trump holds a 41-31-12-5-4% advantage over Gov. DeSantis, Ms. Haley, Sen. Scott, and former Vice President Mike Pence, respectively. While the two South Carolinians don’t score well on the ballot test, their favorability ratings among the Republican faithful are on par with the two leading candidates. Mr. Trump has a positive rating of 83% and Gov. DeSantis 82%, while Ms. Haley and Sen. Scott score 79 and 78%, respectively. Mr. Pence is also viewed positively with a 70% favorable rating.

The fact that no one is yet coming forward to declare their presidential candidacy sets up favorably for DeSantis, assuming he will enter the race when the Florida legislature adjourns in early May. DeSantis’ best opportunity would be going against Trump in a virtual one-on-one battle, thus making the argument that he is the stronger Republican contender in the general election.

Mr. Trump, who appears to have a solid 35% base within the party nationwide, would fare better, as he did in the 2016 nomination fight, against multiple opponents where there is no clear challenger to topple his claim as party leader. Then, just like in ’16, he could win the nomination with less than 40% of the vote until the others drop off.

With the first voting coming just over a year from now, we will soon see this presidential campaign picking up momentum. From DeSantis’ perspective, however, the longer the activity remains stagnant, the stronger he chances become.

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