The Trump Strategy

The Axios news organization ran a story last week that details a reported five-point strategy that former President Donald Trump plans to execute in order to either dissuade Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from entering the race or defeating him.

Not surprisingly, Axios reports that Trump plans to increase his attacks on DeSantis and will continue to use his familiar name calling tactic. Whether this latter ploy has run its course will soon be determined.

As reported, the five-point plan includes the following:

First, Trump will try to create a negative image of DeSantis because he voted for changes to Social Security and Medicare during his time as a member of the House of Representatives. While in Congress, DeSantis voted to raise the eligibility age for Medicare.

This attack is not likely to greatly hurt DeSantis among those older voters who are already on Social Security and Medicare. Trump will use the issue to further attract younger voters who could be more affected by such changes should they ever occur.

According to a new CNN national poll (3/8-12; 1,045 self-identified Republican and Republican leading Independent voters; live interview & online) DeSantis fares better with older voters (41-32% among those Republicans 50-64 years of age; 39-36% with voters 65 years of age and older), while Trump leads within the younger respondent segment (48-30% among those 18-49).

Therefore, Trump will use this strategic point to lock in his advantage with younger voters but will not likely find much success using it to pull older respondents away from DeSantis.

Second, Trump will also continue his attack on DeSantis for being “disloyal,” taking credit for the latter’s Governorship because he supported the Floridian in 2018. Aside from Trump himself, this strategic point will likely move no one, since very few people outside of strong Trump supporters who will see this as an “offense.”

Third, the former President will reportedly attempt to tie the Governor to former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who Trump says “couldn’t get elected dog catcher.” It is unlikely that the average voter will have a strong memory about Mr. Ryan and certainly won’t remember why they shouldn’t like him. Therefore, this too, will prove to be a rather useless strategic element that misses the campaign’s main point.

The Axios report suggests Trump’s fourth point will draw a contrast to how he and Gov. DeSantis dealt with the Covid issue, criticizing the Governor for first going along with the shutdown plans. This attack line will likely backfire on Trump because most of the Republican base will favor how DeSantis handled the issue as opposed to the government under Trump.

Though their views are relatively similar regarding the Ukraine situation, Trump will, again, according to the Axios report’s fifth strategic point, criticize DeSantis for having a muddled response and being circumspect about his position instead of forcefully opposing much further aid.

While foreign affairs maintain some place in the political debate during a presidential campaign, the issues have proven in the past to not be a major vote mover. Therefore, expect DeSantis to ignore Trump on this point and continue moving ahead with his own agenda. His gubernatorial re-election campaign emphasized why the DeSantis policies have made lives better, thus giving people a reason to vote for him, which proved highly successful. Expect more of the same when he enters the presidential race.

A strategic point not mentioned is developing a ground operation, though the former President himself said in another venue that he needs a better organizational operation in Iowa as compared to what his campaign fielded in 2016. He blames the lack of a more proficient political ground force as one of the chief reasons for losing the Iowa caucuses to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Clearly, Mr. Trump views Gov. DeSantis as his chief opponent and is responding accordingly. His five-point strategy, however, may be leading the former President into a trap. Isolating himself and DeSantis, and thus helping to create a two-way race, actually casts the most favorable situation for the Florida Governor to overtake him.

Possibly a sounder Trump strategy would be to ignore the Governor and treat him as just one of many candidates. The more crowded the field, the better Trump will likely fare. With polling around the country rarely showing the former President reaching 50% among Republican voters, his best chance to win renomination is to again score plurality victories in a multitude of states.

The outlined Trump strategy as Axios has covered, however, appears to be at cross purposes with the former President’s most favorable victory path.

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