Tonight ‘Trump vs. DeSantis’ Begins. But is That Truly the Real Battle for DeSantis?

By Al Perrotta Published on May 24, 2023

At 6 p.m. tonight, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will officially announce he’s running for president during an interview on Twitter with Elon Musk.

This means the long awaited match-up between DeSantis and former President Trump for the GOP nomination is hours from getting underway.

A Once-in-a-Century Figure

Trump vs DeSantis has long been billed as a battle between heavyweights. But is that putting too much expectation on the Florida governor?

Trump is a phenomenon seen once a century. For better or worse, the political world revolves around him. Somebody running for dog catcher in the middle of nowhere has an old photo on Facebook in a MAGA hat. If he loses, the national media calls it a defeat for Trump. Joe Biden trips on the stairs of Air Force One and Trump is accused of replacing the treads on the steps. CNN has him on for a little chat with voters and the weeping and gnashing of teeth is almost as sizable as the ratings. He’s the straw that stirs the drink, as the saying goes.

The Big Kahuna. The Big Cheese. The Orange Man.

You’ve got the FBI, CIA, DOJ, IRS, Big Tech, the media, Soros-funded prosecutors … even the National Archives … working full time for seven years now to destroy him … and some governor is supposed to be his big foe?

Sure, Ron DeSantis is a political stud as governor. But so were Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Scott Walker back in 2016. And Trump made short work of all of them at the same time, even before he had a record of accomplishments. Nah, as always, Trump’s biggest foe in this primary is Trump himself.

The Tap-Dance

DeSantis, like any of the GOP figures currently in the race, has a vexing dilemma: How do you get to the nomination without ticking off Trump’s loyal voters? It’s especially hard for DeSantis because, as he himself acknowledges, Trump was responsible for him getting the GOP nod when running for governor and then squeaking out the win. Especially after 2020 election fiasco, DeSantis has to contend with the idea he’s “betraying” Trump by running against him.

Guy Benson suggested on Fox News that DeSantis has act “strategically” to lure over voters who support Trump but aren’t hard-core MAGA.

Some of those supporters are, let’s say, soft supporters. He doesn’t want to actively alienate them, but he does want to raise certain differences, points of difference, where he would make the case that “I’m the better bet for the Republican Party and the future of the movement in general and the opportunity to serve.”

Though “What’s best for 2024?” is a good argument to make, that does runs into a slight problem. How do you say Trump is past his prime without sounding like Don Lemon?

The polls show the hill DeSantis has to climb.

Right now, RealClearPolitics polling averages show Trump with a massive 37% lead over DeSantis, sitting at 56.3% support of GOP voters. DeSantis has dropped to 19.4%, Pence at 5.6%, Nikki Haley at 4.3%, Vivek Ramaswamy at 3.6% and Sen. Tim Scott at 1.8. (The poll period was from 4/21 to 5/18, before Scott’s announcement.)

Which gets to our major point:

DeSantis Has to Win the Not-Trump Position First

DeSantis’s opponent at this point isn’t even Trump. He’s got to win the Not-Trump nomination first. As good a job as he’s done in Florida, as hot a ticket as he has been, DeSantis still has to go to Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and prove it on the ground. Take on Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, both far more personable, connectable retail politicians. This is totally aside from the pounding he’s going to endure from Trump, the MAGA Army and the media.

Haley, in particular, is going to cause DeSantis far more problems than he’s expecting. And not just in the day-to-day slog through hot Iowa county fairs and cold New Hampshire nights.

Think of it. Suppose Trump follows through on his threat and does not join the RNC sponsored debate in August on Fox News. DeSantis will go in as top dog on stage, the one all will be gunning for. The one with the high expectations. How’s he going to stack up against the vibrant, accomplished (and shrewd) Haley, the affable, passionate Tim Scott, the innovative and sharp Vivek Ramaswamy? Whatever his policy points, he’s going to seem washed out. The media will be sure to call him a disappointment. Trump will be harsher than a New York Times theater critic.

Go you one better. Suppose Mike Pence is on that stage as well. Pence is actually a sharp debater and skilled media personality. Twitter will light up: “DeSantis is even stiffer than Mike Pence.”

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the question of “Would DeSantis make a good president? Is he the best choice for 2024?”

It’s all just to point out that candidate Ron DeSantis is in for a rough ride.

Enjoy tonight, Governor.


Al Perrotta is the Managing Editor of The Stream, chief barista for The Brew and co-author, with John Zmirak, of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration. You can follow him at @StreamingAl at GETTR, Gab, Parler, and now at TRUTH Social.

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