Despite former President Donald Trump announcing he’s running for reelection in 2024, his ascension to the Republican presidential nomination might not be too secure.
Trump announced Nov. 15 during a speech at his Mar-a-Lago residency in Florida that he would run for president — something he had been teasing since the end of his last presidential term.
Trump’s announcement came only two weeks after the 2022 midterms when the Republican Party underperformed a nationwide “red wave” and won far fewer congressional seats than they were anticipating.
However, the GOP did arguably win its biggest victory yet: Florida.
Florida’s red wave
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won his reelection against Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist by nearly 20 points — a larger margin than any Florida gubernatorial winner in the last 40 years. This is a stark difference from his 2018 race against former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who DeSantis defeated by less than a point.
From the 2022 results, it appears DeSantis has tapped into historically blue counties like Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, pulling votes from areas he didn’t win in 2018.
While this may appear to be a victory for all Republicans, the same cannot be said for Trump.
A fresh face for Republicans
Trump is still seen as the GOP’s de facto leader by many, with a recent Morning Consult poll finding that Trump leads DeSantis in the Republican primary 48-31%.
However, DeSantis’ recent success shines a light on the changes happening among Republican voters. Trump’s credibility hangs precariously in the balance.
Many Republicans are shying away from endorsing Trump, preferring a presidential nominee who has the brains but not the baggage.
DeSantis plays this part well. An alumnus of both a Harvard and Yale alumni, he has efficiently passed conservative legislation and is 42 years younger than Trump. He lacks Trump’s polarizing social media presence and still appeals to moderate Republicans. While Trump is clouded by controversy following the January 6 hearings and his impeachment case, DeSantis lays low.
Based on these comparisons, Trump’s lofty far-right endorsements in the midterms and DeSantis’ landslide victory, it is suspected that DeSantis will take his career to the next step and launch his own 2024 presidential election bid.
But can he pull it off?
DeSantis has led some polls
Compared to the 2021 polls, positive feelings about Trump have started to decline among Republicans. Republicans expressed more “cold or very cold” feelings towards the former president.
Another poll conducted by YouGov shortly after the midterms discovered that 41% of Republican participants prefer DeSantis as the 2024 presidential nominee, while 39% prefer Trump.
Roughly 46% of participants who voted for Trump in 2020 said they’d prefer DeSantis to Trump in 2024.
Figure 1. YouGov poll responses to “Who would you rather see as the Republican nominee for president in 2024?”
The waiting game
The governor’s intentions to run are far from discreet. During the gubernatorial debate between DeSantis and Crist on Oct. 24, Crist asked DeSantis if he is willing to commit to a second term as governor. DeSantis refused to answer.
After the midterms, when Trump attacked DeSantis, the governor responded by calling the criticism “just noise” and affirmed that he is solely focused on delivering results to voters.
It seems that he’s employing a “less is more” approach edging up to a potential announcement, wary of being too outspoken against Trump and possibly losing that voter base. Keeping quiet following Trump’s reelection announcement would help DeSantis stay out of the fire — for now.
Trump’s endorsements, campaign funds and loyal followers will be much needed for DeSantis if he wins the 2024 primaries.
While DeSantis has clear support from Floridians, stepping up to a presidential race will put his popularity to the test. He will need to preserve Trump supporters despite being his rival, take on the Democratic National Committee and defend his conservative policies from critics of decisions on hot topics like abortion access and gun control.
With the economy, reproductive rights, immigration, gun violence and post-COVID consequences at the top of America’s ballot — plus a new conservative Florida rallied behind DeSantis — America should expect a very interesting and competitive showdown leading up to the 2024 Republican primaries.
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Featured image: President Trump Meets with the Governor of Florida in the Oval Office of the White House in 2020. Unmodified photo from The White House official photographer Shealah Craighead used under a Creative Commons license. (http://bit.ly/3O0aZY3).