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Speculation about the 2024 presidential election began even before last year’s midterm elections, with folks on the right discussing who might be the Republican Party’s next standard-bearer heading into what will be a fiery election season. When former President Donald Trump announced his intention to make another run at the White House in November, it was not a surprise. Nevertheless, it made ripples throughout the political establishment.
But what is on everyone’s mind is one question: Who will challenge Trump for the GOP nomination. In this respect, all eyes are on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose star has risen drastically in the conservative movement over the past few years. His performance as governor earned him a 20-point victory over his Democratic opponent in his re-election campaign, and he is highly favored as a potential challenger to the former president.
This reality is not lost on Trump, who has been taking rhetorical potshots at the governor over the past two months. Most recently, he slammed DeSantis for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that his supporters are “rewriting history.” Trump brought up the fact that DeSantis did lock down the Sunshine State for a few months before reopening. The governor has not yet given a direct response to the former president’s barbs, but it is clear that DeSantis is living rent-free in Trump’s head.
To make the matter even more convoluted is that early polling doesn’t give a precise indicator as to which candidate the base would rather put up against the Democratic contender in 2024. The New York Times reported on a series of polls that yielded contradictory outcomes. “In just the last two weeks, an Emerson College poll found Mr. Trump leading Mr. DeSantis by 26 points, 55 percent to 29 percent, in a multicandidate field, while a Bulwark/North Star/Dynata poll over a similar period found Mr. DeSantis leading by 11 points, 39 percent to 28 percent,” the report stated.
In states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which are the first two that vote for the nominee in the primary elections, there is no clear winner, according to The Washington Post.
Further complicating matters is the fact that DeSantis has not declared his intention to seek the nomination. Indeed, despite the myriad of rumors surrounding his possible political ambitions, he and his team have been rather tight-lipped about his plans, which could also be affecting the outcomes of various polls.
But should DeSantis decide to throw his hat into the ring, he will have a vicious fight ahead of him against an opponent who does not pull punches. He will be facing a former president bent on revenge against those who wronged him during his tenure as chief executive and will not hesitate to drag DeSantis through the ringer. Indeed, knowing Trump, these current attacks are but a soft prelude of what is to come the moment the governor announces his candidacy.
Still, DeSantis has much going for him at the moment. He has skillfully leveraged the culture war to curry favor with a conservative base that still adores Trump but might be open to enlisting a younger version of the former president to carry the torch. The governor’s feud with Walt Disney over the “Parental Rights in Education” law, along with his staunch opposition to woke ideology, have endeared him to right-leaning voters who still favor the more pugilistic approach Trump brought to the fight.
But opposing wokeness and using culture war issues will not be enough to get DeSantis the nomination. One of his weaknesses is that the base has no idea how the governor would govern if he were to become the next occupant of the White House. Nobody knows exactly where he stands on trade, foreign policy, and a slew of other issues that he has not faced as governor.
This will be the area in which DeSantis must make a favorable impression. Not only will he have to articulate a policy agenda that resonates with Republican voters, he will have to do so while differentiating himself from Trump, whose policy positions are widely known. For example, everyone knows that Trump is an immigration hawk whose chief aim was to build a “big beautiful wall” along the southern border to curtail illegal immigration. How would DeSantis handle the migrant crisis, with a bigger and beautifuller wall? Or would he do something that might go further toward solving the problem?
When it comes to foreign policy, Trump was very adamant about getting the U.S. military out of unnecessary entanglements abroad. While he failed to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, he certainly paved the way for such an endeavor. Moreover, he did not start any new wars.
What would DeSantis do in this regard? Leave our troops abroad or bring more of them home? What about the situation in Yemen? Would he have the United States continue supporting Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against their enemies in the region?
These, along with many others, are questions DeSantis will have to answer. Even further, he will have to do so in a way that convinces the base that his approach to these matters is more desirable than that of the former president. Also, while they two candidates line up on most of the issues, DeSantis will have to explain why he will be able to execute the agenda more effectively than Trump. If he cannot achieve this, voters will wonder why they shouldn’t go with the tried and true candidate who has already served in office and delighted the base while being the president.
Of course, DeSantis is a savvy enough politician to know what it will take for him to win over Trump’s base. The question is, does he have the skill to do it?