Trump Will Leave DeSantis On The Side Of The Road Begging To Be Friends Again
DeSantis is in Iowa today, ostensibly on a book tour, but in reality meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds and with Republican legislators in Des Moines. A poll released this morning by the Des Moines Register, shows Trump’s support eroding in the state. His favorability ratings among the state’s Republicans have steadily declined. He and DeSantis are about tied and both are way ahead of Pence (the only candidate with high unfavorable ratings) and Haley.
Meanwhile, Trump is putting more and more energy into fighting back against the legal cases against him. The one in Manhattan— Stormy Daniels— is coming to a head… and apparently driving Trump insane. He put out this short grievance-oriented video and this rambling post on his pretend-Twitter site, slamming the prosecutor:
Will the indictments even hurt Trump among Republicans? Probably not. But with swing voters and independents? This morning Seth Masket, a professor of political science and director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, explained to Politico Magazine readers why Republican grassroots leaders are “increasingly losing interest in” Trump and gravitating towards DeSantis. He did an in-depth survey of Republican county chairs in 35 states. What he found is that about half are still uncommitted to a candidate, although “among those who said they had made a choice, 19% are backing Meatball Ron and 17% are for Señor Trumpanzee. Masket wrote that “the fact that Trump is not the first choice of this group and that fewer than one in five county chairs is committed to him suggests some considerable reservations.”
He also asked these chairs what candidates they are considering supporting at this point. He permitted them to provide as many candidate names as they wanted, and most named more than one. The result looks absolutely catastrophic for Trump:
“Among all the candidates named,” wrote Masket, “DeSantis was the one who is receiving the most widespread consideration— mentioned by 73 percent of the county chairs. Trump was a rather distant second, mentioned by 43 percent. Indeed, Trump was mentioned just a bit more than Haley, who was named by 36 percent, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who was at 28 percent.”
He concluded by asking which candidate the county party chairs definitely did not want to see as the 2024 Republican presidential nominee. “The candidate who was rejected outright by the most county chairs was former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; 55 percent of chairs didn’t want him. He was followed by Donald Trump Jr. (51 percent), former Vice President Mike Pence (43 percent), and then, rather stunningly, by Trump himself, named by 39 percent of chairs. That is, four in 10 county chairs do not want Trump to be the party’s next nominee. By contrast, just nine percent of county chairs have ruled out DeSantis, the best showing of any of the contenders.”
And speaking of the much-disliked Christie, early this morning, Jonathan Martin recounted always hopeful ex-governor’s remarks at the notorious donor event Trump was invited to last weekend, reporting that Christie brought the crowd alive with a rousing and extended denunciation of Señor T, using the GOP Old Establishment talking point that Trump is a loser.
Demanding his party “stop whispering” about their unease with Trump, Christie excoriated Trump for falsely claiming the 2020 election was stolen, propelling a series of lackluster candidates last year and generally presiding over the decline of the GOP over the last half decade.
“If we continue down this road it’s a road that will lead us to another four years of Joe Biden,” Christie warned, repurposing Trump’s memorable vow that Republicans would become tired of winning on his watch to lament their “losing and losing and losing and losing.”
He also attacked DeSantis, calling his “warnings about sliding into a proxy war with China ‘one of the most naïve things I’ve ever heard in my life’— arguing America is already locked in such a conflict; he told the donors ‘don’t be fooled by false choices’ being pushed by ‘a fellow governor,’ a reference to DeSantis’s argument that Biden was too focused on Ukraine’s border at the expense of America’s border; and, most pointedly, Christie wondered how exactly ‘they teach foreign policy in Tallahassee.’… Christie concluded his pitch by warning that the safer course was not to ‘just nominate Trump Lite.’ The Stop Trump campaign among Republican elites is off to a quick start. Most every weekend since the start of this year there’s been some sort of gathering of donors, strategists and lawmakers in a warm weather state.”
While DeSantis is building the message and team of messengers to guard his right MAGA flank from Trump, though, much of the rest of the field is taking aim with hopes of raising doubts about him among non-MAGA voters.
At the hotel in Austin, just down the corridor from where Christie lit into Trump and DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence sat down with me, inscribed a copy of his book and then offered his version of what the former New Jersey governor had just delivered privately to the donors.
“The Bible says if the trumpet does not sound a clear call who will know to get ready for battle,” Pence said. “To me it’s a function of leadership.”
He was talking, as Christie was, about DeSantis’s straddle on Ukraine, an apparent effort to avoid taking sides on what’s the biggest bright-line divide so far in the 2024 Republican primary.
DeSantis said last month in a Fox News interview that it wasn’t wise to tempt a wider war, downplayed the prospect Russia may invade other European countries and denounced what he called Biden’s “blank-check” aid to Ukraine. What he didn’t do was take a forceful stance aligning himself with the populist or internationalist wing of his party on the larger question of America’s role in the conflict.
It was a brief first look at the governor’s foreign policy thinking, which he delivered off the cuff on a morning program known more for its curvy couch than hard-hitting questions.
To the rest of the Republican aspirants it was something else entirely: tempting.
Speaking on the first anniversary of the Ukraine war, Pence rejected, with a characteristic reference to scripture, DeSantis’s uncertain trumpet. “We’ve got to speak plainly to the American people about the threats that we face,” said the former vice president, calling for “strong American leadership on the world stage.”
Firmly aligning himself with the pre-Trump party from which he came, Pence said he had “no illusions about Putin,” invoked Ronald Reagan and said when “Russia is on the move, when authoritarian regimes like China are threatening their neighbors, we need to meet that moment with American strength.”
Then he left the resort, went over to the University of Texas and delivered a speech that could have just as easily been given by a former Austin resident, the last Republican president before the one Pence served.
“If we surrender to the siren song of those in this country who argue that America has no interest in freedom’s cause, history teaches we may soon send our own into harm’s way to defend our freedom and the freedom of nations in our alliance,” Pence said, standing in front of side-by-side American and Ukrainian flags and declaring there’s only “room for champions of freedom” in the GOP.
Which may come as a surprise to the Republican frontrunner and much of Fox News’s primetime lineup.
But those would-be candidates hoping to compete for the 60-plus percent of primary voters unlikely to back Trump, a demographic which overlaps with the more hawkish wing of the party, see their opening.
“We learned this back in 2016,” Mick Mulvaney, the former Freedom Caucus lawmaker turned Trump chief of staff told me, his exasperation radiating through the phone.
Mulvaney, who said he doesn’t think Trump can win a general election, attended DeSantis’s donor retreat and recalled how the governor regaled the crowd with how he performed better with women and Hispanic voters last year than in his first gubernatorial bid — “and not with identity politics.”
While he said he’s not likely to endorse DeSantis, Mulvaney urged the other Republicans to keep their fire on the former president. “In order to beat Trump you have to beat Trump,” he said.
It’s easy to see why somebody like Mulvaney is so emphatic when you consider some of the early polling, including a private survey I obtained from Differentiators Data, a GOP consulting firm.
When they tested a variety of potential candidates among Virginia Republican primary voters, DeSantis was only leading Trump by three points.
Yet when the firm narrowed the choice to only the two top candidates it wasn’t even close: DeSantis was leading Trump by 17.