Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has filed paperwork announcing his candidacy for president. Later on Wednesday May 24, Mr DeSantis will formally launch his 2024 bid during a Twitter Space event with CEO Elon Musk, putting the Florida governor in direct conflict with former President Donald Trump.
Much of Mr DeSantis’ case to be president has focused on electability, his pitch being that he is the only Republican candidate who can beat President Joe Biden. Similarly, Mr. DeSantis has sold himself as a conservative crusader who has pushed for restricting abortion access and how sexual orientation and gender identity are taught in schools.
At the same time, his donors argue that his relative youth — at 44, he is the youngest male governor in the country — as well as his focus on the environment could help him appeal to liberal voters.
This argument began to solidify substantially after the 2022 midterm elections, when several Trump-endorsed candidates lost their races. Mr. DeSantis, meanwhile, was re-elected in Florida by nearly 20 points.
In the following months, Mr. DeSantis began to lead in polling against Mr. Trump. Last December, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll showed that 56 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents Favorite Mr. DeSantis to be the Republican nominee. In addition, polling showed that he beat Mr. Biden by three points in a head-to-head matchup.
A week after the midterm elections, Mr. Trump announced his re-election campaign. And that’s when things started going bad for Mr. DeSantis.
In the days before the 2022 midterms, Mr Trump began testing attacks against the Florida governor, calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a rally in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Mr Trump continued to ramp up his attacks in the intervening months.
But the governor almost never responded to Mr. Trump’s attacks. Instead, Mr. DeSantis embarked on a book tour, often a precursor to a campaign for the White House, where he visited some of the states with early contests, such as Iowa and New Hampshire. A host of former Trump aides also launched a super PAC called Never Back Down.
It was around this moment that Mr. DeSantis’ polling began to decline. In January, Mr. DeSantis trailed Mr. Trump by only 20 points in the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, but he number dropped By five points in February.
The fallout coincided with a series of alleged missteps by Mr. DeSantis, including taking a swipe at Mr. Trump for allegedly paying money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “territorial dispute.”
But Mr. DeSantis’ support among Republicans recently began to fall sharply. Early January, a morning consult survey showed a difference of only 13 points between Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis. But Mr. Trump’s support has grown prodigiously, while Mr. DeSantis’s support has fallen to the point at which Mr. Trump leads Mr. DeSantis by 38 points.
At the same time, Mr. DeSantis does slightly better against Mr. Biden than Mr. Trump in the Morning Consult poll. In a hypothetical rematch, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump would each be tied at 42 percent, while Mr. DeSantis would beat Mr. Biden, 43 percent to 40 percent.
Election Day 2024 is more than a year away, giving Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis plenty of time to sharpen their messages and appeal to voters. But if Mr. DeSantis wants to increase his chances against Mr. Trump, the governor may need to change tactics.