Commentary: Reagan Reed
The 2022 midterm election has not even occurred, and already speculation is swirling about the 2024 presidential election. Although there is plenty of whispering about who the Democratic nominee will be, mostly revolving around the question of whether or not President Joe Biden will seek a second term, we will save that discussion for another day. The far more intriguing forecasting is on the Republican side.
Ever since Trump was defeated in the 2020 election, he has been the presumptive front runner for the GOP nomination. It is almost unheard of for a defeated one-term president to remain at the forefront of American political life, as parties usually go a different direction after being rejected by voters. In order to remain relevant, Trump had to convince a majority of Republican voters that he in fact didn’t lose, no matter how damaging his cynical and self serving “Big Lie” would be to the political system.
While Trump remains by far the most influential figure in Republican Party politics at the moment, 2024 is a long way off, and there are increasingly signs that he may not have a coronation for the GOP nomination. While several candidates will probably challenge Trump for the nomination, there is probably only one who could actually beat the former president: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis is the only GOP politician who’s popularity with the base even comes close to Trump’s, and while he is undoubtedly the front runner if Trump chooses not to run again, he may actually be able to defeat Trump in a head to head matchup.
Now enter the usual refrains from the MAGA crowd: “DeSantis wouldn’t run against Trump!” “Trump should pick DeSantis as his running mate.” Or, “DeSantis will run in 2028 after Trump’s second (third?) term.”
However, the tea leaves are pointing towards the MAGA crowd being wrong.
First of all, the idea of a Trump/DeSantis ticket in 2024 is utterly laughable. For one, it would be unconstitutional: The 12th Amendment states that a President and Vice-President, “shall not be an inhabitant of the same state.” Trump is currently a registered voter in DeSantis’ Florida. Now this can be worked around, after all, Dick Cheney changed his voter registration from Texas back to Wyoming in order to be George W. Bush’s running mate. However, can you imagine Trump changing his residence back to New York to accommodate DeSantis? Not likely. This leads to the second reason why a Trump/DeSantis ticket isn’t going to happen: Trump and DeSantis both have alpha personalities. Trump needs a yes man (or woman), and DeSantis is anything but that. Finally, after how Trump treated his last vice-president, DeSantis would have to be an idiot to endure that same position. The risks of being Trump’s running mate heavily outweigh any benefits, especially if Trump were to lose in 2024.
As far as DeSantis waiting until 2028, I find that scenario unlikely as well. Florida has term limits for governor, and assuming DeSantis wins re-election this November, he will have to leave the governor’s mansion after 2026. It is much, much harder to run for president as a former governor than it is as a sitting governor. Ask Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor was all the rage in 2012, when he would have had his best shot at becoming president. By the time he ran in 2016, his moment had passed, and the party had moved on to new stars. DeSantis is the hot new thing in GOP politics right now. If he waits until 2028, he likely will miss his window of opportunity. The time to run is now.
There also seems to be some degree of tension between the two men. It is notable that to date, Trump, a Florida resident, has not endorsed DeSantis for re-election as governor, and DeSantis has not sought the former president’s endorsement.
This raises the question: If DeSantis runs in 2024, can he actually win? Could he actually wrest the GOP nomination away from Trump? A couple of recent tantalizing clues could indicate the answer to both questions is, “yes.”
First of all, the betting markets are increasing bullish on the Florida governor’s odds. His odds have even been surpassing Trump on the political betting website Predictit. Election forecasters who are actually putting their own money on the line believe DeSantis is more likely to be the nominee. Now, betting markets aren’t always indicative of electoral outcomes, however, they are a data point that shouldn’t be ignored.
There is another data point: A recent poll by the University of New Hampshire shows DeSantis leading Trump in the critical first primary state 39% to 37% among GOP voters. More importantly, while the polls shows Trump would lose New Hampshire to Biden again in a hypothetical rematch, it actually has DeSantis ahead of Biden in the Granite State.
Finally, although this point is admittedly anecdotal, Republican voters I talk to seem increasingly willing to move on from Trump. They still love Trump, and think he was a great president, but they worry about whether he is the right person to be the GOP standard bearer going forward. He will also be 78 in 2024, the same age Biden was when he was elected. Trump’s policies without the baggage of Trump the person seems to be an increasingly viable lane- a lane which DeSantis is perfectly poised to dominate.
Recent primaries, particularly in Georgia, have shown that it is possible to win without Trump’s support. DeSantis is doing everything that aspiring presidential candidates are supposed to do, including meeting with donors across the country, all while saying he is of course focused on running for re-election as governor. And rumors are swirling that Trump could make the unprecedented move of declaring his candidacy this summer- ahead of the midterms. That is not something someone confident of their hold on the party would do.
Now, could this all just be wishcasting on my part? Perhaps. Although I certainly have my disagreements and critiques of the Florida governor, he is still a million times better than Trump. Whether you like him or not, DeSantis is still within the normal bounds of American politics, and I could vote for him if he were the nominee.
DeSantis really does seem to be gaining momentum. Whether it will be enough to carry him into the White House, only time will tell. One thing is for sure though- Trump would not go down easy. The 2024 Republican Primaries could be the nastiest in history.
If DeSantis were to defeat Trump in any Republican primaries, Trump will certainly say it was rigged- just like he accused Senator Ted Cruz of stealing the Iowa caucus in 2016. Some things never change…
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