Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and that proved very true for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during his visit to Iowa over the weekend. Donald Trump, the current 2024 GOP frontrunner and DeSantis’ chief rival, was a no-show in Hawkeye State citing weather concerns, so DeSantis had the first Republican caucus state to himself.
As The New York Times pointed out, DeSantis even made an impromptu trip to Des Moines, Trump’s original destination, in order to fill the vacuum.
“My better half and I have been able to be all over Iowa today, but before we went back to Florida we wanted to come by and say hi to the people of Des Moines,” DeSantis told the crowd, standing atop a table with his wife, Casey, at a local staple, Jethro’s BBQ Southside. “So thank you all for coming out. “It’s a beautiful night, it’s been a great day for us,” DeSantis added, zinging Trump over his supposed inclement weather excuse.
Whatever national polls say—and they all give Trump a sizable advantage over DeSantis—the initial state contests still matter and can reset a narrative for candidates. Some high-profile evangelicals, upset with Trump’s lack of specificity on an abortion ban, could also give DeSantis an opening. And yes, a big splash for DeSantis in Iowa, even perhaps a close second-place finish, could give him a boost in making the Republican primary a two-person race.
DeSantis may have had a “great day” in Iowa, but he’s got some major problems on the way to competing with Trump, who you might recall is a twice-impeached criminally indicted sexual assaulter who lost the 2020 election.
In fact, let’s start there.
DeSantis’ big plan all along was running as a more electable Trump—”Trump without the baggage,” as analysts commonly framed it. Except the foundational premise of the argument is the fact that Trump isn’t a winner, and indeed lost the 2020 election. But DeSantis has never said what he thinks one way or the other about Trump’s loss, assiduously avoiding the topic, which throws a bit of a wrench into his electability argument.
“First question at first debate: Raise your hand if you think Trump won the 2020 election,” Republican consultant Alex Conant, who isn’t working on a 2024 campaign, told Politico. “If a candidate can’t dispose of a fake issue like who won the election, how can voters expect them to handle the real issues?”
DeSantis’ initial appeal to some high-dollar donors as a more reasonable alternative to Trump has also started to wane.
“I was in the DeSantis camp. But he started opening his mouth, and a lot of big donors said his views aren’t tolerable,” metals magnate Andrew Sabin told Politico, despite donating $50,000 to DeSantis last year. DeSantis’ six-week abortion ban, book censorship, and waffling on Ukraine support have all caused considerable angst amongst influential Republican donors.
Last but not least is DeSantis’ humanoid problem. As the Times reports:
The governor and his team have had internal conversations acknowledging the need for him to engage in the basics of political courtship: small talk, handshaking, eye contact.
Any candidate who needs coaching on making eye contact has some considerable hurdles in the realm of retail politics, a considerable strength for his chief rival Trump.
On other hand, some Republicans are absolutely desperate to put Trump in the rearview mirror.
Wisconsinite Amy Seeger traveled to Iowa to see DeSantis at a picnic in Sioux Center. “I would vote for a shoe over Trump,” Seeger said.
Apparently, DeSantis cleared that bar.
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