Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, once seen as a rising star in the conservative movement and a potential heir to the Trump coalition, now finds himself in a challenging position. With Trump announcing his candidacy for president again, DeSantis is faced with the difficult task of trying to compete with the former president’s formidable base of support. Despite quietly chipping away at Trump’s lead in the polls, DeSantis’s efforts were overshadowed by Trump’s indictment, which surprisingly only seemed to strengthen his political standing.
This turn of events has left DeSantis in a precarious position. If attacks from the Left couldn’t damage Trump, it is unlikely that those from the Right will have any effect either. In a field of relatively unknown primary candidates, Trump is poised to dominate the early contests, especially considering the limited fundraising capabilities of his opponents. The exception may be North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who possesses personal wealth and could sustain his campaign for a longer period.
Failing to capitalize on Trump’s legal troubles has raised alarm bells within the DeSantis camp. Despite a promising start, DeSantis has not gained significant traction in the GOP primary polls. Moreover, his favorability rating has taken a hit, with only 35.9 percent of Americans holding a favorable view of him compared to 45.2 percent who view him unfavorably. These numbers have been declining steadily since late March, coinciding with his error-ridden Twitter Space announcement of his 2024 bid in late May.
Furthermore, DeSantis has faced criticism for his signing of several anti-LGBTQ laws during his tenure as Florida governor. A Republican group labeled one of his campaign ads as “homophobic.” While such attacks are not unexpected from The Lincoln Project, a group of disaffected GOP operatives, they contribute to a narrative that has unfolded in the past when popular governors challenged Trump: peaking too soon and ultimately fading away from the presidential race.
Even DeSantis’ own advisers, including former Trump adviser Steve Cortes, acknowledge the challenges ahead. Cortes candidly admits that DeSantis is currently trailing Trump in national polling and characterizes the DeSantis campaign as a “clear underdog.” While he believes the gap could be closed by sharing DeSantis’ personal and political story more widely on the campaign trail, history has shown that once behind Trump in the polls, it’s difficult to catch up.
This unfavorable situation for DeSantis not only affects his campaign but also raises concerns among big-money donors. While it may be premature to claim that the campaign is sinking, it is clear that DeSantis is facing an uphill battle and needs to make significant strides to stay competitive.