Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is rethinking his strategy and message amid signs his presidential ambitions may be faltering before his campaign even begins.
DeSantis started the year with clear momentum in the new GOP presidential race, topping former President Trump in head-to-head polls and drawing unparalleled interest from Republican voters and activists.
But there are signs his momentum is faltering: He has faced weeks of relentless attacks from Trump and his allies, fellow Republicans have criticized him for calling Russia’s aggression in Ukraine “a territorial dispute” and some recent polls have shown his support in a landslide. GOP primary slips.
“For all the hype about DeSantis, I think he still has a lot to work on,” said one Republican strategist, who plans to back him if he runs for Florida governor in 2024. “It’s normal when you look into this kind of thing. But I think he needs to rethink things a little bit.
To some extent, that seems to be happening already.
In an interview with British television personality Piers Morgan this week, DeSantis took several swipes at Trump, raising questions about the former president’s character and brushing off one of Trump’s nicknames, “Ron DeSanctimonious.” The comments were among his harshest criticisms of Trump, signaling a new willingness by the Florida governor to directly confront his one-time political benefactor.
In an interview with Morgan that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “war criminal” and “must be held to account,” he made a different reference to the war in Ukraine.
“I think he has big ambitions. I think he’s anti-American,” DeSantis said of Putin. “But what we’ve seen is that he doesn’t have the usual ability to realize his ambitions. So he’s basically a gas station with nuclear weapons.”
DeSantis has yet to announce a 2024 presidential bid, though he is laying the groundwork for a campaign and is widely expected to announce his plans after the Florida state legislature ends its annual session in May. In recent weeks, he has traveled to key early voting states like Iowa and Nevada while promoting his new book and meeting with GOP donors.
But the flurry of action has put DeSantis in the crosshairs of Trump, who is running for the White House again and believes he is a natural choice for GOP intervention. He released statements and social media posts this week attacking the Florida governor as a political fraud.
“The truth is, Ron is an average governor, but by far the best in the country, public relations, where he’s easily number one – but it’s a miracle, look at the facts and figures, they don’t think so. Don’t lie – we don’t want Ron to be our president! Trump this Weekly said in a statement.
One Trump coalition strategist said the former president is trying to ensure DeSantis enters the race in a weakened position.
“Look, the donor class knows who Ron DeSantis is and what he’s done. But a lot of voters don’t,” said the person. “Donald Trump recognizes that he has an opportunity to define DeSantis before he gets a chance to come out and tell his story.”
So far, the strategist said, it might work. A morning consultation monitoring poll DeSantis’ support fell to 26 percent in a hypothetical Republican primary released this week, tying his lowest level since tracking began in December.
Likewise, A Monmouth University poll Trump led DeSantis 41 percent to 27 percent in Tuesday’s poll, continuing a month-long slide for the former governor. A December Monmouth poll put DeSantis at 39 percent to Trump’s 26 percent.
Of course, the first primary and caucuses in 2024 are still nearly a year away, and some Republicans cautioned against putting too much stock in the polls now.
Sen. Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Marco Rubio’s (Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign, said DeSantis has no reason to change his current approach to the 2024 race. The important thing is that he sticks to it.
Conant said Trump’s recent poll surge was not unexpected; The former president faces possible impeachment in New York and has tried to rally Republicans around him, portraying himself as a victim of political persecution. Meanwhile, the bump DeSantis saw after his 19-point re-election victory in November has begun to fade somewhat.
“In winter, [DeSantis] His landslide victory in Florida garnered him a huge amount of media coverage. Trump started that lackluster campaign, all the bad news surrounding the midterm elections,” Conant said.
“Those events eventually fade into the minds of voters,” Conant added. “Trump has been campaigning hard in the last month and there’s been a certain amount of rallies around him — you’d expect his numbers to go up. But that’s mostly pointless. They could easily go down again in two weeks because of the news cycles.
Although it’s been a tough week for DeSantis, he and his teammates show no signs of slowing down. The Florida governor is scheduled to visit New Hampshire next month to kick off a fundraiser for the state GOP. He will also visit key battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Some of his boosters are also looking ahead to the presidential campaign.
A super PAC launched earlier this month to encourage DeSantis to enter the 2024 race recently hired veteran Republican strategist Jeff Roe, confirmed to The Hill. Sen. before Roe. Managed Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) 2016 presidential campaign and Virginia Gov. Glenn Young’s successful 2021 gubernatorial bid.
For now, Conant said, those kinds of productions are more important to DeSantis than dictating the weekly news cycle.
“At this point you have to overcome the invisible primacy,” Conant said. “Recruiting top performers, keeping other candidates out of the race.”
“Now, the most important thing: Are you building relationships? Are you building a team, constantly introducing yourself to voters? He added. “Now you don’t have to worry about winning or losing in weeks.”
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