Tales of the McCabe: DeSantis White House Quest Was Always a Kamikaze Mission

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Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is the leading rival to President Donald J. Trump’s path to the 2024 Republican nomination. Still, regardless of how his campaign pivots, spins and mutates, his campaign was and never will be more than a political suicide mission aimed at an aircraft carrier.

Our story begins July 3, 2021, when President Donald J. Trump held a rally in Sarasota, Florida, despite pleas from the DeSantis and staff-to-staff conversations all pushing the president to cancel the event out of respect for the June 24, 2021, collapse of the 13-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside—just north of Miami.

Both camps publicly played down the diversion of interests, but Trump purposely did not mention the Florida governor at the rally, which DeSantis skipped.

In the battle between unnamed sources, it soon emerged that the Trump camp was taken off guard, and the DeSantis camp ensured reporters understood that Trump’s rally was a breach of protocol that might force the governor to sever his alliance with the former president.

The relationship between Trump and DeSantis continued to fray for the following year.

In August 2022, a source familiar with the effort told me that Trump reached out to DeSantis through an emissary to offer Trump’s endorsement and his willingness to campaign with the governor. That offer was dismissed.

DeSantis’ 2022 win was not a precursor to a 2024 White House win

As he ran for reelection in 2022, the governor raised more than $180 million for his reelection campaign, while his Democratic challenger Charlie Crist raised roughly $12 million.

That ad buy never came to pass despite Crist’s promise of a $20 million ad buy to support his effort. Outside groups and the Democratic Governors Association stayed on the sidelines and left Crist to his fate.

Mother Nature also dealt Crist a bad had. In the last week of September, Hurricane Ian hit southwest Florida, which had the effect of putting DeSantis on TV all day in his official capacity—but with the result of political gold.

After the campaign resumed, and Republican candidates in other states absorbed the backlash from the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, DeSantis made few trips outside the state to help other Republicans on the bubble. Instead, he ran up his score in the state with a relentless campaign schedule in all 10 of the state’s media markets.

While abortion was a significant issue in other states, Crist tried to raise it in Florida, but the issue was largely settled in the state, where DeSantis signed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks. Fifteen weeks, or the point where the unborn child feels pain, has become the middle ground in the abortion debate.

DeSantis did sign a ban on abortions after six weeks, the point when a heartbeat is detected, but that was not until April 13, 2023, during the legislature’s annual two-month session.

DeSantis was reelected by 19 points over Crist.

DeSantis won 62 of the state’s 67 counties, including many Democratic strongholds, such as Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, and Palm—the first Republican to win there since 1986.

DeSantis beat Crist by 1.5 million votes, but Crist had underperformed the 2018 Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum by one million votes.

One major Republican consultant who was active in 2022 races told RedState he credited DeSantis’ landslide to the governor’s restrictions on ballot harvesting and his 50-officer election integrity task force that effectively blew up the Democratic turnout model, and then threatened heavy prosecutions of offenders.

The consultant said the effect on Democrats was devastating, but there was no way to pull that off anywhere DeSantis was not governor.

This is not to say that DeSantis did not score a historic landslide. He did. But, in the context of his weak opponent, outside groups going AWOL, and the effect hurricanes Ian and later Nicole had on the mediascape, it was not a clean landslide.

At least, there was no easy way to transfer the winning factors in DeSantis’ 2022 reelection campaign to a national presidential campaign.

DeSantis was a self-defeating proposition

The Florida governor entered the race for the 2024 GOP nomination with money, a campaign staff that had just won reelection in a landslide, and momentum.

Nationally, Republicans were very disappointed, losing two governorships and one Senate seat and winning control of the House with a nine-seat pickup. There was talk of a Red Wave in the weeks before the midterms.

When the Red Wave failed to materialize, the blame went to Trump. He, after all, had been the one campaigning for Republicans all over the country. In a way, he made the midterms a referendum about himself.

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