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GOP Debate: The Comeback Kid?
Governor Ron DeSantis is among my list of three real contenders against Trump, but that won't last for long on the trajectory he's on.
This is my third in a series of Daily Saucer takes on the current crop of GOP candidates leading up to tonight’s presidential debate.
Barring any serious changes in the dynamics of the race for the GOP presidential nomination, the only real contenders in my eyes against Donald Trump are Governor Ron DeSantis, former Governor Nikki Haley, and former Vice President Mike Pence.
I haven’t hidden the fact that DeSantis has been a major disappointment to me. Though, not that long ago, I wrote about supporting DeSantis wherever possible as the best shot at beating Trump in the primary, I’ve pretty much moved on from considering DeSantis as the best non-Trump alternative…mostly.
For however much DeSantis has failed to impress me, he has nevertheless impressed a decent enough portion of the GOP electorate to maintain his viability at the present time. Despite his dramatic descent from being within striking distance of Trump to being pretty much on equal footing with other candidates, there seems to be a good 10% of Republican voters who are sticking with DeSantis through thick and thin.
That might not sound like much, but thus far, it’s been enough to keep his campaign going and to help him live to fight another day. But I don’t see how another skate-by performance tonight would do him any favors.
DeSantis has to do a better job of differentiating himself from Trump and showcasing his success as Governor when the lights are on him. His supporters are devoted because they know his track record, and they recognize the ways he represents something different than Trump.
But DeSantis isn’t doing enough to overcome the charges of being Trump lite, of being a culture war provocateur, of doing little more than waiting in the wings hoping Trump will fizzle out so he can inherit his supporters without having to fight him in any meaningful way.
If DeSantis wants people to think he can arrest his sinking popularity and rebuild toward being the main challenger against Trump, he’s got to have a breakout performance tonight. He has to dramatically differentiate himself from Trump, he has to show why he is the one person among all the others that non-Trump voters can trust to take on Trump, and he has to find a way to show he’s building the kind of broad coalition he built in Florida as part of his campaign for President rather than just duking it out with Trump for MAGA scraps.
From where I’m sitting currently, DeSantis’ main draws were his momentum after last year’s mid-term elections, his “man of the hour” claim to be able to challenge Trump credibly right out of the gate, and his capacity to build a broad coalition of non-Trump Republicans and non-MAGA Trump voters looking to move on to something else. As these draws have faded, the problems I have with DeSantis on the issues have come to the forefront, and if it truly is a choice between DeSantis, Pence, and Haley, DeSantis gets moved to my third-string option.
The Daily Saucer is our place for freelance contributors and editorial staff to offer short takes on the news cycle, quick observations on the issues, and brief thoughts on broader topics. The views offered in this space reflect only the personal views of the authors.