Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing early hurdles in his attempt to position himself as a strong contender for the presidency while portraying former President Donald Trump as a loser. DeSantis aims to convince GOP primary voters to reject what he calls the “culture of losing” associated with Trump, but he faces complications as he navigates the delicate task.
DeSantis’s Focus on Trump’s Losing Record
DeSantis and his allies have been emphasizing Trump’s track record of losses in recent elections, aiming to present the Florida governor as a viable alternative to the former president. DeSantis asserts that governing is about producing results and winning, not just building a brand or engaging in social media.
The Republican Party’s Recent Electoral Setbacks
DeSantis’s case is strengthened by the fact that the GOP lost the House in 2018 while Trump was president, Trump lost his re-election bid in 2020, and the party failed to regain the Senate in 2022, despite reclaiming the House with a smaller majority than expected. Trump’s endorsements of candidates who were defeated during those elections were partly blamed for these setbacks.
DeSantis’s Recent Candidate Losses
DeSantis’s attempt to portray Trump as a loser becomes complicated when two candidates he endorsed lost high-profile elections, including one who was defeated by a Trump-backed rival in the Kentucky gubernatorial primary. Additionally, DeSantis-endorsed candidate Daniel Davis lost the Jacksonville mayoral race to a Democrat, which raised questions about the governor’s level of support and involvement in campaigning for his endorsed candidates.
Criticism of DeSantis’s Lack of Campaigning
Political strategists argue that DeSantis should have actively campaigned for his endorsed candidates to avoid the perception that he was neglecting his responsibilities at home while traveling across the country. The loss of his endorsed candidates weakened his argument as a winner and provided an opportunity for Trump’s team to criticize DeSantis’s own “culture of losing.”
Trump’s Team Takes Aim at DeSantis’s Record
Trump’s team capitalized on the losses suffered by DeSantis’s endorsed candidates and mocked what they referred to as his “culture of losing.” This criticism from Trump’s camp forced DeSantis to defend his record and respond to the attacks.
Wading into the 2020 Election Controversy
Presenting Trump as a loser forces DeSantis to engage with the controversy surrounding the 2020 election. While Trump lost the election, many GOP voters refuse to accept the result, and DeSantis has been cautious in addressing the issue, avoiding clear statements on whether he believes the election was rigged or fraudulent.
Trump’s Dominance in National GOP Primary Polls
Despite DeSantis’s attempts to cast Trump as a loser, national polls consistently show Trump with a substantial lead among GOP primary voters, with DeSantis trailing behind in most cases. As the Republican field takes shape, candidates are searching for ways to challenge Trump’s hold on the party, and strategists believe that highlighting the lack of success during recent election cycles may resonate with voters.
DeSantis’s Appeal in State-Level Polling
Although Trump leads in national polls, DeSantis performs better in state-level polling. Recent polls in swing states like Arizona and Georgia show DeSantis narrowly leading President Biden. In hypothetical head-to-head matchups, Biden edges out Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Highlighting DeSantis’s Winning Record
DeSantis’s rise as a formidable alternative to Trump is partly attributed to his team’s efforts to frame him as a winner. They point to his landslide re-election victory in Florida and his conservative reforms enacted during his tenure as governor.
Legislative Wins Under DeSantis’s Leadership
DeSantis’s strong policy positions have led to legislative victories in Florida, including the signing of a Parental Bill of Rights, addressing concerns about inappropriate material in schools, and taking a stand against woke corporations. These accomplishments are cited as evidence of DeSantis’s ability to produce results.
Communicating DeSantis’s Victories to a Wider Audience
The challenge for DeSantis lies in effectively communicating his successes beyond his home state of Florida. It is crucial for him to convey his record to voters in other states who may not be as familiar with his accomplishments as Floridians are.
DeSantis’s Need for Concise Messaging
DeSantis must find a way to communicate his achievements quickly and succinctly during campaign speeches. Lengthy speeches may not effectively convey his victories to audiences outside of Florida.
Trump’s Attacks on DeSantis’s Electability
As DeSantis prepares to enter the primary field, Trump and his team are expected to intensify their attacks against the Florida governor, aiming to undermine the perception that DeSantis is more electable in a general election.
The Field of Rivals and the Battle for Second Place
Sen. Tim Scott’s entry into the 2024 race is seen by some as an opportunity for other candidates, including DeSantis, to challenge Trump’s dominance. Trump-aligned voices argue that DeSantis’s rivals see him as a potential obstacle and are aiming for second place rather than directly challenging the former president.
Ron DeSantis faces a challenging task in positioning himself as a strong contender while portraying Donald Trump as a loser. While DeSantis has highlighted Trump’s electoral losses and emphasized his own record of victories, he must overcome obstacles such as recent candidate losses, controversies surrounding the 2020 election, and Trump’s dominance in national GOP primary polls. As the primary campaign unfolds, DeSantis will need to effectively.
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