The puzzling strategy of Ron DeSantis

Conventional wisdom seems to be that Florida governor Ron DeSantis is planning to seek the Republican presidential nomination, and that he will announce his candidacy after the state’s legislative session ends in June. That many people think he will be a candidate is clear. About three months ago, I saw a neighbor walking her dog wearing a ‘DeSantis 2024’ sweatshirt. He seems to be acting like a prospective candidate, doing all the things that candidates do, like visiting early primary states such as Iowa, writing a book, and then going on a ‘book tour’ and giving interviews which is usually just a means of a candidate getting their name out to the public without actually making an announcement.

He has raised his profile nationally by pandering to the extreme right wing of his party,. He seems to have made being ‘anti-woke’, opposing covid regulations, and pandering to racists and anti-LGBT sentiment his main platform. He is clearly seeking to outflank Trump on that side, trying to give the impression to voters that they can have the full-bore Trump hate agenda without the Trump baggage. In this he is contrasting himself with other candidates who may want to appeal to those Republican primary voters who are weary of Trump and culture war issues and seek a fresh face.

I must admit that I am a little puzzled by his strategy, mainly the one of timing. Why challenge Trump for the 2024 nomination? DeSantis is setting himself up for a brutal battle and Trump has already started lashing out at him in his typical style, giving him nicknames and mocking him. Since DeSantis and Trump are competing for largely the same culture war-loving voters, and those people tend to be loyal to Trump, how can he win over those voters without attacking Trump? He seems to think that he can be Trump without all the Trump baggage, trying to obliquely bring up the latter’s legal woes by mentioning the issue of him paying hush money to a porn star.

Breaking his silence on Donald Trump’s legal troubles, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday criticized the Manhattan district attorney who is pursuing charges against the former president and vowed his office would not be involved if the matter trickles into Trump’s adopted home state.

But DeSantis, a rising rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, stopped well short of offering support for the former president and instead seemed to poke fun at the situation Trump has found himself in as he attempts a political comeback and a third campaign for the White House. A grand jury is in the final stages of determining whether Trump should face charges over an alleged payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels related to a supposed affair.

“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis said as laughter broke out at a news conference in Panama City, Florida. “I just, I can’t speak to that.”

Of course, a furious Trump knew what game DeSantis was playing and hit back on his social media site Truth Social.

“Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are ‘underage’ (or possibly a man!). I’m sure he will want to fight these misfits just like I do!” Trump wrote.

As part of the post Trump also shared a photo that suggested DeSantis had behaved inappropriately with teenage girls while teaching history in Georgia in his early 20s, an image the former president previously shared on social media to go after the Florida governor.talking about how DeSantis begged and pleaded for his endorsement.

In a recent interview, Trump went after him again, accusing him of crying and begging him to help his floundering campaign, a deadly charge in the hyper-testosterone macho world of Republican politics where any sign of weakness is the kiss of death.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday, Trump painted the Florida governor’s request in a new light. He claimed DeSantis got overly emotional when asking for his endorsement.

“Ron DeSantis got elected because of me,” Trump said. “You remember — he had nothing, he was dead, he was leaving the race. He came over and he begged me — begged me — for an endorsement.”

“He was getting ready to drop out. … He said, ‘If you endorse me, I’ll win,’ and there were tears coming down from his eyes,” Trump said.

DeSantis can expect a lot more of this if and when he enters the race. It is going to be an uphill battle for anyone to grab the nomination from Trump, even if he is indicted multiple times, since many of his followers seem to have decided that all his legal problems are due to partisan and corrupt prosecutors. As this article suggests DeSantis has some other problems as well.

This again brings up my question. DeSantis is only 44 years old. Surely it would have been better for him to wait out the 2024 race? If he had stayed out of the race and given his full support to Trump, that would have paid big dividends in 2028. If Trump wins the nomination (as seems likely) and then wins the presidency, he will still have to leave office in 2028, since even Trump is unlikely to try to be president for a third term, overriding the constitution-mandated two-term limit. If Trump were to win the nomination and lose the general election, 2028 would again be a clear field since Trump would be then seen as such a massive loser that even he would not try again. With such a open field, DeSantis could swoop in and, if he had whole-heartedly supported Trump from the beginning this time, claim Trump’s mantle and possibly even get his endorsement. Waiting until 2028 seems like a no-lose proposition, especially since he would only be 48 years old then. The only risk to not running would be if Trump somehow self-destructs and withdraws from the race and someone else wins the Republican nomination and also the general election. But that seems unlikely.

So why run now? It is likely that DeSantis suffers from the same disease that affects many politicians, a burning ambition that makes them impatient to achieve higher and higher office before the time is ripe.

There are signs that because of Trump’s attacks, DeSantis’s poll numbers are slipping. It is possible that he might decide not to run if the situation looks gloomy in June, and claim that he never even considered it. But Trump will still gloat and call him a loser and being seen as having once been a rival to Trump could hurt his chances in future races. Look at all those Republicans who challenged Trump in 2016 and got destroyed by him, like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, Cary Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich. After being defeated by Trump, many groveled before him, even though they had ridiculed him earlier. They are still licking their wounds and are staying out of the 2024 race.. What makes DeSantis think he will have a different fate?


  1. sonofrojblake says

    “even Trump is unlikely to try to be president for a third term”

    I’d you’d put it past him, you’ve more faith in his humility than I have.

  2. flex says

    I suspect that Meatball Ron is smart enough to try to attract the MAGAts during the primaries and then swing strongly toward the center in a general if he gets the nomination. He might count on that to be enough to negate a Trump independent run.

    A petulant Trump running as an independent may not split the republican vote as much as anyone thinks.

    If DeSantis gets the nomination and loses because of Trump’s attacks, he can blame Trump.
    If DeSantis doesn’t get the nomination, but Trump does, when Trump loses DeSantis can also blame Trump.

    The only real downside for DeSantis running in 2024 is that he may be stale in 2028, and that might happen anyway.

  3. says

    Two things about DeSantis’s “stragegy:” First, he’s getting into the race EARLY, as in early in the year before the actual election year; which gives him lots of time to simply wear Trump down along with Trump’s current legal troubles. And he’s currently in office and getting things done, while Trump is just raving and whining and making up childish nicknames and losing relevance. Not sure if this will work, but it is a reasonable gamble.

    Also, DeSantis can’t wait till 2028. By then he’ll be out of office, a has-been, unable to compete with whoever is in office in the attention-hogging-stunts arena, and quite possibly (we hope!) with much or all of his signature policies discredited and maybe even rolled back in disgrace.

    So, yeah, it’s 2024 or never for DeSantis.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    If Ron’s already selling dog sweatshirts* with his name and next year on them, he’s decided.

    If somebody else is selling those sweatshirts, he isn’t even defending his right to his own name.

    *Yeah, I know…

  5. robert79 says

    Could it be DeSantis is simply betting that Trump will get convicted of *something* (serious enough to make him ineligible), in times so the Republican nomination goes to him by default?

  6. says

    Another thing: It’s pretty obvious to nearly everyone, including Trump’s core supporters, that Trump really doesn’t believe anything he says, doesn’t even seem to care whether it’s true or not, and doesn’t even pretend to live by any of the conservative-Christian moral standards he promises to support or enforce. So DeSantis could very easily pretend to be the True Believer who really will uphold Christian-Reich morality, more consistently and reliably than Trump. “Trump is a phony, I’m the real deal!” Plus “I’m strong and resolute enough to continue on the course President Trump set for us!” In other words, DeSantis could easily play Nixon to Trump’s Joe McCarthy, and win himself — at least — a more solid and coherent base of support than Trump could ever have.

  7. says

    He may be deciding it’s best for him that he doesn’t engage with Donald’s attacks, but there’s no way a base as bloodthirsty as the Republicans’ isn’t seeing him as weak despite all the hard work they love him for in making Florida an absolute hellhole.

    I am curious how he’d do in the general election though. People are worried because he’s smarter than Trump, but I’ve seen under-cooked chicken with more charisma and the things conservatives have been cheering for him about were shown to be a turnoff to voters in the last federal election. It would be a lot harder for him to take a turn to the center to woo independents considering how high profile he’s been in emptying libraries of books.

  8. xohjoh2n says


    I’ve seen under-cooked chicken with more charisma

    Yes, but as long as it’s chlorinated the American public will eat it.

  9. Deepak Shetty says

    I must admit that I am a little puzzled by his strategy, mainly the one of timing. Why challenge Trump for the 2024 nomination?

    The big money funding him want a return on their investment and soon as they can.

  10. KG says

    So far De Santis has not committed himself to a run. He may never do so if Trump looks to have the nomination more or less sewn up, but if Trump drops dead -- by no means a far-fetched possibility -- De Santis is positioned to step in and far ahead of other possible runners. At any rate, De Santis does not need to declare for many months yet.

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