Florida governor tries to reassure supporters

This Week: The Briefing, Vol XI, Issue 28

  • DeSantis tries to reassure supporters
  • Needs “outside help” to overcome Trump’s dominance
  • LaRose jumps into Ohio Senate race


DeSantis campaign: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s (R) campaign issued a memo last week intended to quell fears among donors and supporters that his campaign is going nowhere.

The memo does contain some useful information, although nothing too surprising. For example, it highlights the campaign’s predictable focus on Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Some supporters of DeSantis would like to see him focus even more on Iowa, where former President Donald Trump (R) performed poorly and lost in the 2016 caucuses. Indeed, now as a former president and the undisputed 800-pound gorilla in the primaries, Trump could suffer a serious blow to his own prestige if he does not win convincingly in the coming caucuses.

(Then again, keep in mind that Trump is still very popular in Iowa overall, as he showed in the two subsequent general elections, despite caucus-goers’ skepticism in 2016. This is not a state where Trump’s brand is unpopular, like Georgia or Arizona.)

The DeSantis memo boasts that DeSantis raised $20 million in his first 6 weeks campaigning — a figure that is solid but probably also expected of a campaign that had been so widely anticipated when it launched in May.

In fact, DeSantis outraised Trump by about $2.3 million in the second quarter. Although Trump’s $22.5 million cash on hand is about $10 million more than DeSantis, the important point is that he is far outraising all non-Trump candidates. In fact, if you don’t count loans that candidates have made to themselves, the next runner-up was Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) at $5.9 million.

The memo also discusses the need to continue advertising on television in these states, even though the campaign’s burn rate has apparently caused concerns with some supporters.

But whatever the problems with his campaign, DeSantis isn’t obviously or blatantly messing up his chances at this point. If you had asked him in May where he would like his campaign to be at this early stage, he probably would have taken outraising Trump and dominating the field of also-rans. 

Keep in mind that most of the negative publicity he has received is the result of media mini-dramas that won’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things.

Trump continues to dominate: However, as we noted last week, DeSantis has a big and real problem. Unfortunately for him, it is something he probably cannot do much about on his own. Trump is such a dominant and enduring figure in today’s Republican Party that you can’t just approach a campaign against him from any sort of conventional strategy. Indeed, the playbook for beating Trump in the primaries has not been written. 

Most Republican voters would be thrilled to have DeSantis as the nominee — they’d just rather have Trump, at least at the moment.

DeSantis simply needs for more Republican voters to tire of Trump and to decide they want to move on. It could happen, but so far it hasn’t, and in fact the indictments against Trump only seem to have worked in his favor so far.

Just consider how speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the highest ranking elected Republican, is forced to tiptoe around Trump’s feelings every time he says something about the presidential primary. Consider how the leadership at the National Republican Senatorial Committee has been so cautious in order to avoid Trump’s ire. Indeed, it has not been lost on many individual members of Congress that even a single negative comment about Trump could force them into a primary they’d rather avoid. This continues to be the case even now.

DeSantis’s memo acknowledges that Trump has a floor of support around 25 percent. But this is really much too conservative. Trump receives more than 50 percent support in multiple recent polls, including both national and state contests. Importantly, this includes California and Florida, where DeSantis seemed previously to have been doing better.

The only recent public poll with any good news for DeSantis was Wisconsin’s Marquette Law School poll, which showed him one point behind Trump in the Badger State — a very interesting result from a normally reliable pollster, but also an outlier nowadays and not from an early primary state. The next-best was in New Hampshire, where Trump “only” had 40 percent.

The DeSantis campaign’s plan on how to handle Trump is to criticize him only when asked directly, and to move on quickly to attacking President Joe Biden and talking about how he will defeat the incumbent.

There isn’t anything obviously wrong with this strategy. DeSantis is trying to defeat Trump in the primary. For a candidate facing a double-digit deficit, some degree of negative campaigning and messaging is unavoidable. 

Even so, it almost certainly won’t be DeSantis’s campaign or its message that undoes Trump. DeSantis needs to do what he can — build a positive image and message based on his biography and his political record as a culture warrior and pioneer in bringing conservative policy to a large state. But like a football team attempting to squeak its way into the playoffs, he will also need some help from outside — most likely from events over which he has no control — to bring Trump down a few pegs in the voters’ minds. 

Again, if he can win in Iowa — where Trump lost in 2016, and has recently antagonized the state party in a way that could irritate local caucus-goers — then DeSantis at least has a real chance. But it’s still going to be a real longshot.

Senate 2024

Ohio: Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), a 44-year-old up-and-comer, announced Monday morning that he has entered the Senate race to challenge incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). He joins businessman Bernie Moreno (R) and state Sen. Matt Dolan (R) whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians (until recently Indians) baseball team. Ohio’s other senator, U.S. J.D. Vance (R), endorsed Moreno in May.

LaRose is not anti-Trump, but you could call him less devoted than the average Republican — he has said that he expects to earn Trump’s support but that he won’t beg for it, and that Trump’s endorsement isn’t necessarily worth what it used to be.

One early poll, from the end of June, shows LaRose with a small early lead over both of the others. In general election testing, Brown leads all three Republicans, but well within the margin of error and never with more than 46 percent support. 

The NRSC appears unlikely to put its thumb on the scale here — NRSC Chairman and Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R) said of these three candidates that “any one could win the general election.”Montana: In his big interview last week about Republican Senate prospects in 2024, Daines said that he had tried to talk Rep. Matt Rosendale (R) out of running for Senate against the party favorite, retired Navy SEAL and businessman Tim Sheehy. Rosendale, the unsuccessful 2018 nominee, appears determined to run anyway, and he would likely start as the frontrunner in a primary.