DeSantis is Losing his Grip in the Republican Party

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Photos of DeSantis and Trump placed side by side (Image Credit: CNN)

As the presidential election looms, Ron DeSantis must find enough votes to rival Donald Trump in the Republican primary to win an opportunity to strike at Biden’s falling approval rates. He appears poised to fail in this mission.

Over the past few months, Governor DeSantis has shifted focused on representing a younger, more extreme version of former President Trump, provoking “culture wars” and battling Disney over his controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill. As DeSantis’ policies and ideas become more radical, he has slowly lost the votes of moderate conservatives, who are instead choosing to support other candidates such as former Texas representative Will Hurd. Losing the support of the moderates, DeSantis hopes to win over Republican hardliners with zero tolerance against immigration, the “woke”, and conglomerates who disagree, with the most recent example being his signing of the bill SB1718 prohibiting immigrants from driving legally on July 1st.

These actions have gained acclaim and popularity within his home state of Florida but have not translated into popularity in other states, according to polls. Despite passing policies that align with Republican ideals, polling results show that DeSantis’s support stagnates at around 23%. At the same time, Trump’s increasing approval, now standing at 52%, shows that more than half of all Republicans support him. It is seeming less and less likely for DeSantis to be able to catch up to Trump in the primaries, and although this is due to a number of factors, there are key reasons why this is.

When running for Governor of Florida, DeSantis won in a landslide victory. However, this success is unlikely to be replicated in the primaries. In his bid for governor, his opponent was not Trump. In fact, Trump had been supporting him throughout his gubernatorial campaign, allowing DeSantis to take advantage of Trump’s zealous supporters. In the coming primaries, DeSantis would not only no longer has the advantage of Trump’s devoted voters during the primary, he would also have to turn those voters against Trump and towards himself. Far-right voters who have backed Trump since 2016 would be reluctant to join DeSantis’s camp and are likely to continue to back Trump throughout his 2024 campaign.

The alternative for DeSantis would be to move towards the Overton window, and become a moderate Republican. However, that contains its own issues. The “moderate Republican” candidate field is already oversaturated, limiting DeSantis’ possible audience. Of course, it is disingenuous to suggest the “moderate Republican” voter block is a homogenous group of voters, but that may only complicate things for the Floridian governor. Many candidates appealing to this group have decided to carve out a niche, including Mike Pence campaigning to the religious group and Nikki Hailey finding huge success with female republican voters. DeSantis would need to find a niche or disrupt all other groups enough to secure enough votes to rival Trump.

In another blow to his campaign, DeSantis has also lost the support of pro-business and free-speech Republicans. Throughout his tenure as governor, DeSantis has taken it upon himself to embark on missions to attack some of the axioms that Republicans stand for: Free speech and a pro-business attitude. The Disney scandal has shown DeSantis stripping Disney of their right to special power over their land for opposing his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In response, Disney sued DeSantis, leading to DeSantis using anti-establishment rhetoric to sway public opinion, a viewpoint that is heavily criticised within the republican party. By acting on Disney for their opposition to his bill, he has alienated free speech Republicans who were originally on his side.

Despite DeSantis’s denial, polling shows DeSantis’s popularity within the republican party is rapidly declining. If DeSantis wishes to win the Republican primary, he will be forced to win over the diehard Trump fanatics or the established moderates, and both fights seem almost untenable at this stage.

Written by Pacey Qi

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