The DeSantis campaign is in the middle of a reset, allegedly, but it’s really hard to tell if the team knows what they need to reset to, if that makes sense.
The problem right now is that much of what we know about the DeSantis campaign has come from social media. With the exception of the interview with Jake Tapper of CNN, there hasn’t been much in the way of mainstream exposure of the candidate himself. As has been the case in past months, that void has left the Ballad of Ron DeSantis to be written by voices that don’t belong to the Florida governor.
In the battle for the Republican nomination, there are five categories of Republican voters.
- Only Trump
- Preferably Trump
- Preferably Someone Other Than Trump
- Never Trump
Trump overall averages just above 50 percent overall and in Iowa. In other states, he’s somewhere in the 40s. Let’s go with the RealClearPolitics average of 52.8 percent nationwide. We can comfortably assume about half of that is Only Trump, while the other half is Preferably Trump, meaning they think Trump has the best chance. Still, they can be persuaded otherwise – mainly if/when they see someone who is potentially more appealing gaining traction.
So for DeSantis, who is averaging 18.4 percent nationwide, there is a chance to peel off support from Trump, but he can’t do that straight away. We saw that with the COVID stuff and we saw that with the woke stuff. He hit a ceiling, and he’s actually started bleeding support. Over the past month, he’s lost about 3 percent of his support. In the wake of that, candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott have gone up.
Near as I can tell – and this is as someone with no contact with anyone inside the DeSantis camp – DeSantis is kind of stuck in the niche he made for himself. The “own the libs” fighter with a focus on woke issues. It really has me wondering if Politico’s Playbook was correct in its assessment this morning: The DeSantis campaign is rewinding rather than resetting.
Who is the primary audience in taking up beef with Flordia Rep. Byron Donalds? Yes, Donalds is undoubtedly trying to have it both ways when critiquing the Florida standards on African-American history.
“The new African-American standards in FL are good, robust, & accurate,” Donalds tweeted. “That being said, the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted. That obviously wasn’t the goal & I have faith that FLDOE will correct this.”
At best, Donalds is making a judgment of the particular standard, but that judgment appears based on the media’s and Kamala Harris’ assessment of it rather than the fact that this isn’t really all that new an idea when it comes to teaching American history. But the DeSantis campaign hit back hard, tying Donalds to Harris when it’s clear that Donalds is in no such way an acolyte of the super-woke movement.
The problem is that the campaign is hitting back using Twitter, riling up its own base, and really doing nothing to win new voters to DeSantis’ side.
Consider the recent interview on Outkick, where DeSantis toys with the idea of unleashing Robert Kennedy Jr. on the CDC or FDA. What, exactly, does that do to win over the extremely necessary Trump Skeptical voters in the Republican base? At best, you’re tweaking an already hostile media and getting a chuckle out of mostly people who are aligned with Trump. That doesn’t win you any voters outside of a very small sphere.
There have been whispers of the “Great American Comeback” getting a stronger focus from the DeSantis campaign, but we really have yet to see that as the candidate gets himself more mired in those familiar, comfortable topics that have maxed out their electoral benefit for him. If you’re trying to get someone who is wary of Trump and chaotic temperament to vote for you, you don’t tease something even more insane like hiring a pro-abortion, environmentalist Democrat to wage war on the health sector for you.
And you can quibble with these assessments but, again, you do so online. Where is the candidate’s voice in all this? I don’t want to see campaign staff tweeting this stuff out. I want to see DeSantis in mainstream interviews, holding his own against biased reporters and anchors. The current trajectory ain’t it.
The problem for DeSantis is that the campaign is doing a lot of things for online appeal. But online appeal only gets you so far, and when you’re pandering to the same style of cult of personality that Trump has online, you’re taking time away from appealing to average Americans through more traditional outlets. Because you’re focusing on hyper-conservative new media outlets and social media followings, there is a void in the mainstream, and that void is being filled by your candidate’s opponents rather than the candidate himself.
I say all this as someone who likes DeSantis and what he’s done as governor, and as someone who is potentially a primary voter for him. This doesn’t come from a place of hatred or disrespect. It’s quite the opposite. I would love to see him succeed, but it’s clear that his campaign is not ready to make the jump into the arena he needs to be in. If they are, they haven’t really shown it yet.