Washington The rivalry between ex-US President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the early US presidential campaign continues to intensify. Trump is the only Republican to have announced his candidacy for the 2024 White House race. “I’m angrier and more determined than ever,” he said at the weekend’s campaign launch.
But DeSantis, whose candidacy is expected in the summer, is increasingly seen as an alternative. Trump is losing support, as has become clear in his recent appearances. Republican Governor Chris Sununu boycotted his visit to the state of New Hampshire. Trump is no longer the powerful “he thinks he is,” he said. And the association “Ron to the Rescue” placed DeSantis cardboard cutouts within sight of the ex-president.
Party strategists, however, warn against writing Trump off. “Trump is still the dominant force in the Republican Party,” says Jon Seaton, who once advised George W. Bush and John McCain and now analyzes voter data for the Republicans.
Election researcher Amy Walter from the Portal Cook Report says: “Trump is a 700-pound gorilla.” He has a stable influence on about 40 percent of the Republican vote. “In a crowded field of candidates, that’s enough to win the nomination.”
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The unanimous opinion of many strategists is that no one is excluded. In a year the first states will hold the important primary elections, by then a dozen Republicans should declare their candidacy.
A woman as a candidate?
It is quite certain that Nikki Haley, Trump’s former UN ambassador and former governor of South Carolina, will be there. “I think I can be the leader of our party,” she told Fox News, and her campaign is expected to start in February.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, there was speculation about her chances: According to the Semafor portal, James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, spoke in favor of Haley as a presidential candidate. However, she ranks far behind Trump and DeSantis in polls.
In 2016, the field of candidates was so overcrowded that the Republican candidates had to be divided into several TV debates. A similar situation could arise in 2024, another signal that leading Republicans believe Trump is defeatable. “Trump is trying to sell the second season of a show that was canceled a few years ago,” says election researcher Walter. Someone like DeSantis “promises a newer, younger and exciting future.”
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In fact, on paper, there is more to be said against Trump being nominated again than for it. The social media group has reactivated Meta Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram, which are extremely important for his campaign’s fundraising. US President Joe Biden’s document affair also diverts the focus away from Trump’s own secret paper scandal.
Bad chances for Trump
But seven years later, Trump can no longer count on the surprise effect of 2016, which put the self-proclaimed anti-establishment candidate in office. His campaign is getting off to a slow start, major donors are turning away. His dinners with rapper Ye and Nick Fuentes, both known for anti-Semitic views, also drew criticism.
Several charges against him are looming from the US Department of Justice and the state of Georgia, which is investigating Trump’s attempts at election manipulation. Just a few weeks ago, Allen Weisselberg, former CFO of Trump Corporation, was convicted of tax fraud.
And even if Trump were to run again, Republicans lost three elections under him, including for the White House and Congress. In the midterms in November, the Trump-funded candidates performed mostly poorly.
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Biden, 80, has not officially announced his 2024 candidacy, but Washington is expected to seek a second term. Trump lost to him in 2020, even if he still doesn’t admit it to this day.
Ron DeSantis: From Trump fan to biggest competitor
So the answer to all Republican doubts is DeSantis? At least the 44-year-old is the only politician besides Trump who has double-digit poll numbers among party supporters. DeSantis is considered smart, ambitious – and populist: In October he had 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers flown to the Martha’s Vineyard oasis of relaxation to draw attention to the crisis on the Mexican border. “Wokism is going to die in Florida,” is a famous saying he uses in school politics, where he restricts teaching on transgender issues and racism education.
DeSantis once co-founded the right-wing Freedom Caucus group as a member of the House of Representatives. At the time, he was a Trump supporter. Both live in the same state and used to perform side by side.
Step by step, however, DeSantis broke away from Trump, including his conspiracy theory of the stolen US election. That was strategically wise, because election deniers were unable to win a majority in the last congressional elections.
The governor made his mark beyond Florida’s borders when he spoke out against mask requirements and lockdowns during the pandemic. He’s also popular with Hispanics, the fastest-growing constituency, and educated women who Republicans are vying for nationwide.
>> Read here: Ron DeSantis – Who is the politician Trump fears?
“Voters are looking for someone like Trump – just without all the baggage and drama. This is exactly why DeSantis is so appealing,” writes election researcher Walter. According to the expert, however, there is “no guarantee” that the hype surrounding DeSantis will continue. “The pressure on him will increase, the race will become more brutal as more candidates come in.”
Who is still traded as a candidate
Anything is possible, as the past presidential elections have shown. Republican Jeb Bush, for example, was considered an early frontrunner until Trump came on the scene. And with the Democrats, Biden was not the favorite for a long time and still got the nomination in the end. Numerous potential candidates who are currently exploring their campaigns are counting on the unpredictable dynamics of US election campaigns.
These include Senators Ted Cruz and Tim Scott, Governors Larry Hogan, Brian Kemp and Kristi Noem, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, ex-Vice President Mike Pence, former Congressman Liz Cheney, and John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser.
Above all the personnel wrangling is the Republicans’ question of survival. With whom at the top can the party convince parts of the center again and gain a majority without losing Trump supporters at the base? So far, the Republicans have been waging a chaotic war of direction, as the day-long vote in Kevin McCarthy’s election as speaker in the House of Representatives showed.
Biden’s economic policy is becoming less vulnerable as inflation eases and the US may be spared a recession after all. Republican states in particular are also benefiting from the green energy transition of the Democrats. “Illegal immigration will certainly be one of the top issues,” says strategist Seaton, adding to the social struggles over abortion, transgender rights, racism and education.
The next big test for Republicans is in the coming months, when the debt ceiling is raised. Sections of Republicans in Congress want to cut health and social security.
President Biden is already trying to capitalize on Republican disorientation. “Why in God’s name should Americans give up the gains we’ve made over the last few years for Republican mayhem?” he said a few days ago in the White House when the latest US growth numbers were released. His Democrats as reliable doers, the Republicans as confused disruptors – that is Biden’s early guiding theme for the 2024 election campaign. Regardless of who the Republicans nominate.
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