Florida governor Ron DeSantis recently announced that he will be running for President of the United States- cool! But let's draw attention to these early Republican primary polls, which are nothing short of Trumpmania. According to a poll conducted by CNN dated May 17th through the 20th, 2023, registered Republicans or Republican-leaning voters favor the former president, Mr. Trump, over DeSantis by a ratio of more than 2:1. 53% of respondents indicated they’d vote for Trump among the listed candidates, compared to DeSantis’ meager 26%. Yes, it’s still early in the race, and everyone remembers how Trump himself went from bottom to top as the dark horse GOP candidate in 2016.
However, at this point in the Republican primaries for the 2016 nomination, no candidate held 53% of voters. In fact, no candidate held even 15% of voters; in a GOP primary poll conducted by CNN between May 29th and May 31st, 2015, Florida senator and then-frontrunner Marco Rubio led the pack with just 14% of respondents indicating they’d vote for him. In this same poll, Trump netted just 3%. While DeSantis currently holds a presumptuous 26% of voters, greater than any single candidate at this point in 2015, is this enough to catch Trump, who, if primaries were held tomorrow, would win the nomination in a landslide?
The big question, I suppose, is who within the Republican base is voting for DeSantis over Trump and why? And no, the reason is not because there was a higher count of Florida citizens polled. To answer this question some will point to Trump’s term and say he was too divisive or too polarizing, but when you look at the rate of intraparty support from 2016 to 2020, or of Republicans who voted for him, there’s actually a 2% increase, meaning more Republicans voted to reelect him than those who voted to elect him in the first place. Between these two figures nearly-identical in ideology, what’s up with the split?
The answer to this is that one of the candidates was a former President, and the other banned books. These are two headline-grabbing, deeply controversial figures vying to represent a scorned and reactive electorate. Scorned in the sense that Republican voters feel wronged or misled simply because Trump lost in 2020. A September 2022 poll conducted by Monmouth University revealed that 61% of Republicans believed that Biden did not win fairly- if that’s not a crowd that feels wronged, I don’t know what is. From this it’s plausible to say that Trump’s lead is as great as it is because he’s appealed to this scorned crowd, and they want nothing more than to be right. By renominating and reelecting Trump they fight back against the liberal agenda and smash the woke paradigm that oppressed them- they’re empowered by Trump, as he represents so much of the culture war waged by liberals and conservatives alike.
But if Trump and DeSantis are so ideologically similar, why are GOP voters predominantly supporting Trump? DeSantis is what many would consider a career politician, meaning he’s seen as an insider or an elite, no matter how tough on elitism he may campaign to be. He went from a District Attorney’s office to DC in the House of Representatives to Tallahassee in the Governor’s Mansion- he’s on the inside! He’s one of them! Whereas Trump is and has since 2016 been seen as the outsider’s outsider; despite being an indisputably elitist billionaire, he was able to craft the image of an outsider in not being affiliated with a public position before running for president.
If we’re wondering what’s up with these GOP polls, perhaps the answer is branding execution. Trump has been expertly branded as the scorned outsider who was cast out of his presidency by lies and the elite; a perfect comeback story for a party like the GOP, who so ardently believe in pulling oneself up by their bootstraps in the face of adversity. What does DeSantis have to compete with that? A feud with Mickey Mouse.
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