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DeSantis is slipping in the polls: now he must rebuke at Trump

The Iowa caucuses will be held on January 22 next year and they will be the kick-off of the Republican Party primaries for the 2024 presidential election.

Once again, the big favorite seems to be former President Donald Trump, but his supposed great challenger has not yet taken the field. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appears to be the only actual contender for the Republican nomination. DeSantis won the last gubernatorial election in Florida with unprecedented percentages, obtaining 59.4% of the preferences against the Democratic candidate Charlie Christ. According to some analysts, DeSantis' victory may have marked Florida's definitive transition from a swing state to a red state. It has been enough to suggest that the Florida governor may aspire to the presidential nomination.

In the weeks immediately following the midterm elections, polls indicated strongly growing approval ratings for DeSantis. At the same time, former President Trump was held responsible for the failure in the midterm elections, which had allowed the Democratic Party to maintain and consolidate its majority in the Senate. Then, on November 15, Trump announced his third candidacy for the presidency of the United States, maybe at the worst possible moment. According to an analysis by New York Times columnist and pollster Nate Cohn, Trump-backed candidates in the midterm elections had scored 5 percentage points fewer than other GOP candidates on average. On the other hand, the strong media coverage enjoyed by DeSantis, who at the time was seen as the GOP's only hope of returning competitive at the polls, had translated into strong approval among Republican voters. According to the poll average put together by the aggregator FiveThirtyEight, support for DeSantis in the republican primaries was higher than 30%: unprecedented percentages for a presumably first-running candidate for the presidency.

Ron DeSantis' favorability rating in a line graph made by FiveThirtyEight

Since then, former President Trump seems to have recognized his main rival in his ex-pupil, Ron DeSantis, and has gone on the attack. Trump now attacks the governor of Florida daily, mainly through Truth social. According to the New York Times, Trump recently «spent weeks trying to lure DeSantis into a fight by provoking him with rude nicknames like 'Ron DeSanctimonious'». DeSantis has so far remained unmoved, almost as if he wanted to take the blow, or trying to keep himself out of the provocative territory on which the former president seems to be most comfortable, as demonstrated by the 2016 GOP primaries.

In the meanwhile, Republican voters have noted DeSantis' liability, and he is now slowly slipping in the polls. Although it is early to declare a clear frontrunner, Trump's advantage over the governor of Florida is now in the double-digits, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Trump's lead has grown by 12 percentage points in the last month, according to a Quinnipiac poll.

DeSantis seems more committed to courting the MAGA voter base (from Make America Great Again, the successful slogan of Trump's presidential campaign in 2016), rather than the voters of the moderate wing of the Republican Party, who are impatient with the former president and eager to support a new candidate. In a written response to a question by journalist and Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, DeSantis declassified the current ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict as a “territorial dispute” — a stance especially popular among MAGA voters, as well as in Russia. According to DeSantis, «the Biden administration's virtual "blank check" funding of this conflict for "as long as it takes," without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country's most pressing challenges"». It is a position not supported by the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, which has historically hawked the Russian Federation. But it's a position that not even then Florida State Representative Ron DeSantis supported in 2016. At the time, DeSantis opposed Barack Obama's efforts to initiate a “reset” with Russia, and he noted that Democrats «viewed guys like me who are more of the Reagan school that's tough on Russia as kind of throwbacks to the Cold War».

The major risk is that in trying to woo the most loyal Trumpian base, DeSantis alienates a good part of his potential electorate. According to a poll by Echelon Insights, 47 percent of potential DeSantis supporters believe the war in Ukraine is vital to US strategic interests. A position at the antipodes with that of the candidate they intend to support.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis takes the podium during an event of Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2020 (Associated Press)

In an interview held yesterday by British journalist Pierce Morgan, DeSantis appears to have gone on the counterattack for the first time. The interview will air on Fox News on Thursday, March 24, but according to the first advances provided by Morgan, DeSantis would have answered a question from the journalist about Trump's recent attacks. «It's not important for me to be fighting with people on social media,» DeSantis said, adding that he's staying focused on «knocking out victories» in Florida. A clear rebuke against the former president, unable to deliver the majority in the House and Senate in the midterm elections.

Attacking Donald Trump certainly presents some risks, but it is even riskier to allow him to pounce on his carcass. The former president is a master at this, and DeSantis seems to have finally got it. We'll see if the poll numbers start to rise again in his favor.


Edited by: Ritaja Kar

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