Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Can DeSantis Recover?

Writing pieces about how damaged the presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is has become something of a cottage industry. A new one in Politico is headlined "A DeSantis come-from-behind win is looking vanishingly unlikely." Note the use of "vanishingly." They could have left that word out and it would still have been a fine headline. That just rubs it in more.

It's not impossible for DeSantis to come back as it's been done before, albeit under different circumstances and with different candidates. Jimmy Carter did it in 1976 and Bill Clinton did it in 1992. But neither had to deal with a former president with a 30-to-40-point lead in the primary. Also, Carter was generally perceived as a decent person whom voters across the spectrum at least respected. Clinton was a rogue, but a lovable rogue who could charm the spots off a leopard. DeSantis is increasingly perceived as a very unpleasant person who is on a crusade to destroy something ("wokeness") that most people don't understand or care about. He is not perceived as a fundamentally decent person like Carter. Like Clinton, he is thoroughly political, but Clinton was seen as a friendly guy who could regale everyone with endless amusing stories and who wasn't on some kind of weird crusade. He was just a governor who wanted a promotion. Lots of them do. Nothing wrong with that, per se.

In recent history, only once has the Republican who was leading in the polls in the summer before election year gone on to lose the nomination. That would be Rudy Giuliani in 2008. But Giuliani's main claim to fame was that he happened to be the mayor of New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. He didn't stop the attacks or make the recovery go any faster than any other mayor would have. He just was in the "right" place at the "right" ("wrong"?) time. Giuliani had never even won a statewide election. He wasn't the kind of guy that ordinary Republicans would walk over broken glass barefoot to vote for. John McCain was indeed down in the summer of 2007, but his opponent du jour (Giuliani) wasn't really that strong. He just had better name recognition. In contrast, Trump is vastly more popular with Republican voters than Giuliani ever was. And DeSantis is not a war hero, like McCain, unless you count the culture war. And even if you do, we're not so sure about the "hero" part.

Mike Huckabee won Iowa in 2008 and McCain won New Hampshire and then it was basically over for Giuliani. Maybe DeSantis can win Iowa or New Hampshire, but current polling says he has a steep hill to climb in both. Also, in the summer of 2007, when his campaign was floundering, McCain owned it. On New Hampshire Public Radio, he said: "We've made mistakes. The responsibility is mine. I'm the candidate." That kind of talk goes over well with the crusty Yankees in the Granite State. McCain came over as honest and didn't try to blame anyone else for his failings. Maybe someday DeSantis will take ownership of his sinking campaign. And maybe someday people will be building snowmen (you know, with snowballs) in Hell. Maybe.

The only thing that could plausibly save DeSantis is for Trump to crash and burn. Maybe if Trump is convicted of one or more crimes by next spring, that could take some of the air out of his balloon. But based on Trump's appearance at the Lincoln Dinner in Iowa last Friday, maybe not even that would help. Trump has repeatedly insulted the state's popular governor, Kim Reynolds, but he still owned the room. When he strode on stage, the faithful stood up and roared. Those were his people. He spent his 9 minutes on stage talking about how the 2020 election was rigged, but the audience lapped it up.

None of the other candidates at the Lincoln Dinner made that kind of impression. DeSantis was well received as he attacked Kamala Harris, but he doubled down on saying that slaves in the antebellum South learned valuable skills. Even Republicans are telling him to cut it out. He does have some good lines. One he uses is: "I'm running for president because we as Republicans cannot be content with simply managing the decline of our country a little better than the Democrats."

Asa Hutchinson reminded the audience that they belong to the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. But that was then and this is now. They now belong to the party of Donald Trump. When candidate Will Hurd said that Trump was running only to stay out of prison, the crowd booed him. Not a lot changed as a result of the dinner. DeSantis didn't suddenly reverse his steady decline. He needs to do that fairly fast or it will be too late. The Aug. 23 debate may be his last chance before everyone sees the race for the GOP nomination as over.

More bad news showed up for DeSantis at 3 o'clock this morning. Breaking news, apparently. The New York Times posted the results of a new Siena College poll showing Trump with a 37-point lead over DeSantis among likely Republican primary voters nationally. This is what it looks like:

Poll of Likely Republican primary voters

The crosstabs are even more damaging to DeSantis than the bottom line. DeSantis is being crushed in every demographic category. Among seniors, he is at 9%, among noncollege voters he is at 13%, with very conservative voters he is at 15%, and finally, among college-educated voters, only 25% prefer DeSantis.

Trump's appeal isn't on the issues. It is due to his mean, venal, nasty, bullying style. One New Hampshire voter the Times interviewed said of Trump: "He might say mean things and make all the men cry because all the men are wearing your wife's underpants and you can't be a man anymore." That really says it all. The undertone here is that tough-talking straight white Christian men have a God-given right to run the country and everybody else should buzz off and get out of the way so men can be real men again. Trump gets that. The Yale and Harvard Law-educated DeSantis doesn't give off the vibe of being a "real man." All his talk about "wokeness" probably makes it worse. Why is he talking about this crazy stuff nobody understands when men can't be men anymore?

As to the other candidates, three of them are tied for third place, with 3% support apiece. Even if all the other candidates dropped out before Iowa, which wouldn't surprise us in the slightest (well, actually, we would be surprised if Christie dropped out because he is not in it to win, just to damage Trump), it wouldn't matter because Trump is above 50%. If DeSantis wants to win this one, he'd better pull a rabbit out of his hat fast. (V)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates