Did DeSantis Make a Mistake by Waiting So Long To Announce?

The governor, expected to announce within days, has stumbled in recent months while Donald Trump has dominated the spotlight.

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Governor DeSantis on March 10, 2023 at Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Governor DeSantis, who is expected to announce a presidential bid next week, is entering a far less favorable race compared to a few months ago now that arguments about legislative agendas and electability seem to be taking a back seat to personality, an area in which the Floridian has struggled compared to President Trump.

Political watchers have been waiting on an announcement from Mr. DeSantis since the 2022 midterms, when he decisively won re-election and Florida stood out in its unwavering support for Republicans in an otherwise historically bad performance for the GOP.

In the wake of the midterms, Republicans reacted to the red wave that never arrived, with some blaming the lasting influence of Mr. Trump, some blaming the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, and some blaming young voters.

At the time, it seemed like electability might become a key factor in the GOP presidential primary, considering the party suffered blistering defeats in 2018 and 2020 and only narrowly secured a House majority in 2022.

One Republican seemed uniquely positioned to make such an electability argument after winning the formerly swing state of Florida to the tune of 16 points, Mr. DeSantis.

Since then, Mr. Trump’s nomination bid was re-energized by the criminal indictment from New York, which enabled him to dominate the spotlight and rally support.

Looking at the polls, Mr. Trump led Mr. DeSantis by 12 points in the February Ipsos Reuters survey. The same poll conducted in May found that Mr. Trump now leads Mr. DeSantis by 30 points.

It’s widely understood that Mr. DeSantis waited to announce, and may wait still longer, because he wanted to have a productive legislative session in Florida. Yet this raises the question: Did he wait too long and will the legislative session matter?

While he waited, Mr. DeSantis went to war against Disney, which has so far been outflanking him with clever legal maneuvering and good public relations that have made the governor look to some to be petty and weak. He also signed a strict abortion ban only popular with most socially conservative voters. Both the Disney feud and the abortion law have been considered drags on Mr. DeSantis’s reputation.

A political scientist at John Jay College, Brian Arbour, told the Sun that it’s hard to tell whether announcing earlier would have been more advantageous, but that it’s also not clear that Mr. DeSantis’s legislative accomplishments will be an asset.

In the immediate future, Mr. Arbour said, “Going after Disney, the most popular thing in America and the biggest taxpayer and the biggest employer,” may be backfiring.

“It’s unclear to me that that is appealing to the average Republican primary voter and Trump’s success with them seems to be less a matter of having a legislative agenda that people want and more of an emotional agenda,” Mr. Arbour said.

Beyond the potential vulnerabilities that his recent actions have created for Mr. DeSantis, he seems to have lost the window where electability was at the center of the GOP primary discussion.

“DeSantis’s appeal that he’s more effective — it worked for George Bush in 2000 but I’m not convinced its the same Republican primary,” Mr. Arbour said.

In contrast to Republicans after the 2008 election and Democrats after the 2016 election, there doesn’t seem to be much course correcting from the GOP in terms of attempting to broaden the party’s appeal.

Mr. DeSantis has also allowed Mr. Trump to command press attention and control the narrative in his absence from the presidential field, painting the governor as disloyal and personally awkward.

In addition to winning a number of well-timed endorsements of the former president, Mr. Trump’s campaign is now running ads in Iowa against the governor, who appears to retain an early lead in that state and New Hampshire despite Mr. Trump’s national lead, at least according to Mr. DeSantis’s allies.

They’ve taken to using Mr. DeSantis’s time in Congress under Speaker Ryan to paint him as being in opposition to Mr. Trump’s brand of populism, which is itself a departure from the GOP’s former image of fiscal responsibility.

In the new ad, titled “Old DeSantis,” Mr. Trump’s camp coined the latest nickname for Mr. DeSantis — “Ron DeSalesTax” — while also seizing upon one of his less photogenic moments in Japan.

“Ron ‘DeSalesTax’ had a plan / To make you pay more / With a sales tax here, and a sales tax there / Here a tax, there a tax, everywhere a sales tax, ” the ad goes.

The New York Sun

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