Q&A of the Day – DeSantis vs. Trump
Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.
iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.
Today’s Entry: @brianmuddradio How do you see the race between Trump – DeSantis playing out?
Bottom Line: It’s safe to say that DeSantis’ entrance into the Republican presidential primary parade has ushered in a new phase of the Republican primary process. While the first votes of the cycle are still seven months away – the effort to win those votes is now on with full effect. In attempting to answer the question, about how the race may play out, I’ll answer it this way. Donald Trump is the favorite. Ron DeSantis can win. Suggesting anything more than that at this point would be sheer speculation. There are numerous ways this could play out – right down to an eventual contested convention. The only speculation I’m comfortable engaging in is that the next Republican presidential nominee will be one of Trump or DeSantis. All Republican primary voters are familiar with Donald Trump and over 80% of Republican primary voters are familiar with Ron DeSantis. And with that high level of familiarity, 76% of Republican primary voters are already showing support for one of Trump or DeSantis. That combination, two front-runner candidates which are well known, and highly supported by base voters, doesn’t leave enough oxygen in the room for other candidates to meaningfully emerge. Now let’s breakdown the race between the two...
In referring to Donald Trump as the favorite at the onset of this heavyweight primary race, the case is clear. Trump is the former President of the United States having twice won the Republican primary process and the presidency once. And central to this conversation, his current support in Republican primary circles reflects it. There is not a single poll, national or state, in which Trump isn’t currently showing a lead. That includes Trump sporting a stout 37% average advantage nationally, with greater than 50% overall support. Meaning that DeSantis can’t simply consolidate the non-Trump vote and win. He’ll need to win over some voters that are currently pledging support to Trump to do so. Trump’s front-runner status is also reflected in the betting markets where he’s currently being given a 59% chance of winning the Republican nomination by those who’ve placed money on this offshore. If DeSantis were to overcome the odds how might that happen?
While the not-so-good news for DeSantis is clear as evidenced above, here’s what he has going for him at the onset. Starting with the contextual elements. He’s the highly effective governor of the 3rd largest state of the country. A state which is first for net migration, first for economic growth, first for new business formation, first in education and that has a record low unemployment rate with a 50-year low in crime rate. Trump has tried to suggest Florida was great before DeSantis, which I agree, however of those facts, the only one which held true prior to DeSantis, was the net migration story. DeSantis can and will point to a series of highly successful policy measures passed in Florida which are popular in Republican primary circles. One policy measure in particular will likely emerge as a contrasting theme between Trump and DeSantis. Pandemic policy. Trump never did fire Fauci. DeSantis literally banned Fauci’s policies in Florida. The next potential edge is age. Even Hillary Clinton is admitting Joe Biden’s age is an issue. It’s much harder to make the case that there’s a significant contrast if the Republican candidate is nearly as old (though Trump is clearly far sharper mentally). And the third comes down to data with current polling. While DeSantis’ familiarity among Republican primary voters is exceptionally high, there still are about one in five primary voters who aren’t familiar with him. That represents potential upside for him if those voters become familiar with him and like him. So, about that.
Trump, as is well known, has a hugely loyal base of voters who don’t just like him, they love him. It’s an immovable fact that there are not only many Americans generally who feel quite the opposite, but some Republicans who don’t care for the former president either. DeSantis has the highest favorability ratings of any nationally known politician in either party. DeSantis’ net favorability ratings are currently 12.1% higher than Trump’s. And that in a nutshell becomes the true test for DeSantis. The appeal of Trump by those who don’t like him but that are willing to vote for him, is that he represents the medicine this country needs. They support Trump’s policies without personally supporting him. The question is if DeSantis can convince enough of those voters, which are in the minority of current Trump supporters, that he really is in effect Trump without “the bad stuff”. But then there’s the final piece of the puzzle and that’s the wild card.
This race isn’t just about Trump and DeSantis. Again, with over three-quarters of Republican voters behind one or the other of them, it mostly is, but the field has the potential to weigh in heavily. One of the biggest questions heading into the primaries will be how many additional candidates will remain in the race in early primary states, and how much of the vote will they occupy? Conventional wisdom holds that Trump benefits from more candidates being in the race. I agree with that assessment. That said, winning primary elections is a two-fold process in heavily contested primaries. It’s not just about performing well and winning the most states. It’s about accumulating enough delegates to win a nomination process. There’s an argument to be made that DeSantis is hurt by more candidates being in the field splitting the Republican vote that isn’t with Trump, however, there also could be a case to where delegate support could be diluted at the top if other candidates remain in the race and manage to win shares of delegates along the way. We’ll dive into those conversations if/when we get there. For now, though, that’s the way I see the race.