Back in 2015, then Congressman Ron DeSantis was a little-known representative with ambition for Florida’s governor’s office. At the start of his gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis faced a formidable opponent and an establishment favorite. Adam Putnam. As the state’s secretary of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Putnam was a career politician with proven success in a statewide campaign, but Trump, who saw DeSantis as an anti-establishment figure, gave DeSantis his endorsement. Trump helped DeSantis ride the anti-establishment wave that swept him into Florida’s Governor’s mansion with a close victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum in 2018.
In hindsight, when you consider DeSantis’ stature at that point of his political career, it’s easy to understand why Trump wouldn’t have feared or anticipated DeSantis eventually emerging as his leading potential rival for the presidency. Trump never could’ve envisioned a pandemic that ultimately harmed Trump’s re-election odds and simultaneously gave DeSantis national notoriety as a rebel for state’s rights. Ironically, COVID ultimately helped DeSantis gain the exposure he needed across the country.
Knowing Trump’s ego, he would’ve never endorsed DeSantis and gone with the safe establishment Pick in Putnam had he thought back then that DeSantis would become the next Republican celebrity.
If DeSantis decides to challenge Trump and the GOP primary Trump won’t have many if any areas to attack DeSantis because most of DeSantis policy mirrors Trump’s on approach to domestic policy.
On the issue of COVID and its impact on the economy, DeSantis emerged as the GOP’s leading vocal critic of CDC overreach after the debate began across the country. DeSantis’ gained national attention with his early commitment to opposing the CDC, the HHS and Dr. Fauci’s push for mask and vaccine mandates. His pro-business, anti-lockdown stance protects him from any Trump criticisms, because Trump could anger his own base if he were to suggest that DeSantis should have been more compliant with federal guidelines.
In the heated battleground also known as America’s current “culture war”, DeSantis has arguably taken a more proactive approach to combating woke companies and extreme left policies, including one of the nation’s largest entertainment companies: Disney. As for Trump he has remained comparatively quiet on many social issues. As a result DeSantis will be able to refer to much more recent actions he has taken versus the extreme left but Trump will have to point back to policies from several years ago.
In the area of military and national security Trump, can’t effectively attack DeSantis for lack of experience because DeSantis has been in the military and seen firsthand many of the vital issues facing soldiers on the front lines.
On government spending, DeSantis can point to his balanced budgets, including the latest, vetoing more than $3 billion while putting in place $109.9 billion in state spending, both record-high amounts. Obviously, that total is a fraction of the federal budget, but Trump increased fiscal conservatives will be the first to tell you that Trump’s biggest weakness is in the area of federal spending. Even prior to COVID, the federal budget deficit grew under Trump’s watch, and Trump showed little to no interest and taking any serious action to reduce it.
If Trump attacks DeSantis over DeSantis lack of experience in the White House DeSantis can counter by reminding voters how Trump downplayed the importance of government experience when he ran for office in 2016.
On the issue of abortion, we know that Trump admitted that the overturning of Roe versus Wade would be bad for Republicans, but he appointed three of the five justices who voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade so he certainly can’t attack DeSantis for being too far to the right on abortion.
On the issue of crime, Trump can’t attack DeSantis because DeSantis has put in place many pro law-enforcement policies during his first term as Florida’s governor.
Trump won’t be able to cite any major issue where he can point to and say that DeSantis has no experience. Voters will have to decide whether or not trumps personal attacks are convincing enough to abstain from supporting DeSantis. They’ll have to make that tough decision while seeing no evidence that Trump can improve on his performance in Florida’s neighbor to the northeast, where Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate David Perdue lost by a landslide in the GOP primary, Trump-endorsed Senate Candidate Herschel Walker’s campaign is collapsing vs. incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock, and Brad Raffensperger (Georgia’s Sec. of State, David Rebuked by Trump) defeated Trump-endored Jody Hice, 52.3% to 33.4%. Raffensperger also has the largest lead of statewide candidates. Keep in mind, polls showing Trump with a five-point edge over Biden aren’t a valuable predictor of success in an Electoral College map, you must breakdown the data to a state-by-state level.
Trump needs every DeSantis voter to merely maintain his coalition, whereas DeSantis can grow his base by attracting conservatives from the “Never Trump” crowd. While Trump and his supporters may mock the size of that group, it’s still a net positive of voters that Trump can’t ever add to his tally, and we saw him beg Georgia’s secretary of state for votes.
On the issue of election security, Trump can’t attack to DeSantis because DeSantis signed a bill to strengthen election security measures by requiring voter rolls to be annually reviewed and updated, strengthening ID requirements, establishing the Office of Election Crimes and Security to investigate election law violations, and increasing penalties for violations of election laws.
DeSantis can proudly point to his present policies as his future plan meanwhile Trump is stuck on complaining about the 2020 election being stolen.
Money always plays a huge role in elections DeSantis best chance for success is to build a coalition of support from other likely contenders who may opt not to run including Nikki Haley and Tim Scott.
If you recall the 2016 Republican primary Trump faced a large field which divided the competition and enabled him to win winner take all states with less than 50% support. Voters may have already forgotten this key fact: In 2016, it wasn’t until many other competitors dropped out of the race when we saw Trump saying serious competition from the remaining two contenders Ted Cruz and John Kasich.
If the GOP primary starts and ends with DeSantis as trumps only challenger, Trump won’t be able to deflect toward other candidates and will benefit from a fractured opposition vote as he did en route to his nomination in 2016.
In some ways, Trump versus DeSantis could resemble the intense battle between Hillary Clinton and Obama in the 2008 Democratic Primary. Clinton was the overwhelming favorite and American’s already knew her backstory, which wasn’t as charming as her opponent. Trump is a known commodity with a support base that has virtually no room for growth conversely DeSantis is a rising star with plenty of blue ocean to expand his base of support.
DeSantis is in a position where he can focus strictly on touting his positives on the other hand Trump is forced into a position where he must go negative on DeSantis rather than focusing on himself.
Ultimately, it’s easy to see how conservatives will view DeSantis as a the most proactive protagonist for their fight in the culture war for America’s future.