DeSantis disappoints, and some Republicans seek new Trump-slaying savior

DeSantis is behind Trump in national polls and, more important, polls focused on the crucial early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

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There was a dream scenario, and it went like this: both big-ticket donors and grassroots activists would unite behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, fresh off last year’s landslide reelection campaign.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, would find his own White House bid hobbled by his legal troubles in New York, Georgia or Washington. And so the Republican Party would not have to suffer through the kind of crowded and messy primary that allowed Trump to claim the nomination in 2016.

Then the dream ended, and the GOP woke up to the very reality that the party had hoped to avoid, with Trump as the undisputed presidential frontrunner.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump at the Turning Point Action conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Saturday. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As for DeSantis, he appears thus far to have fallen victim to sky-high expectations. Since his disastrous Twitter Space presidential announcement, the blustery young governor has seen his campaign stall badly. He is behind Trump in national polls and, more important, in polls focused on the crucial early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

In politics, as in flight, a stall that isn’t corrected tends to end in a free fall. Over the weekend, DeSantis fired a dozen staffers and announced a campaign reboot. Whether those are signs of competence or desperation remains to be seen.

But some Republicans are already looking for a new savior.

Read more from Yahoo News: Why is the DeSantis campaign struggling?

‘DeFUTURE’ no longer looks quite so bright

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking in Arlington, Va., on Monday. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“DeFUTURE,” declared the New York Post in a headline after DeSantis triumphed over Democratic challenger Charlie Crist in last fall’s reelection bid. If the midterm elections were generally bleak for Republicans, they were splendid for DeSantis, who seemingly saw his response to the coronavirus and hot-button social issues validated by Florida voters, including many independents and some Democrats.

In retrospect, that victory may have been a high point he will never reclaim. On the campaign trail, DeSantis can be awkward — or downright unpleasant. His intense focus on the culture war appears to be alienating moderate voters he promised he could attract.

The release of a bizarre campaign video widely perceived as homophobic managed to confuse and upset many mainstream conservatives. “Republicans and other commonsense conservatives know Ron Desantis has alienated swing-state and younger voters,” the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, argued in a tweet.

The video reportedly upset Rupert Murdoch, whose New York Post had all but crowned DeSantis months before. Murdoch, of course, also owns Fox News, a network that had been exceptionally friendly to the Florida governor. But now the Murdochs — Rupert and his son Lachlan, a possible successor — appear to be backing away.

“They are transactional and can smell a loser a mile away,” a person familiar with the Murdochs’ thinking told Rolling Stone. Several major Republican donors who had eagerly contributed to DeSantis are also reportedly rethinking their support.

DeSantis has plenty of time to turn his campaign around, but questions about temperament and personality — the most vexing questions he faces — do not lend themselves to easy fixes.

Read more from our partners: I Was Team DeSantis Before His Disgusting Anti-Gay Ad

A new candidate to take down Trump

Tim Scott
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina campaigning in Iowa on Friday. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

Trump’s commanding lead in the polls has become a matter of pressing anxiety for Republicans who do not believe he can defeat Joe Biden in 2024. They had hoped that DeSantis would be a viable alternative to Trump, but as uncertainty about his prospects mounts, so does a desire to find another candidate to take on that role.

Increasingly, that candidate is Tim Scott, the senator from South Carolina whose inspiring personal story, deeply held Christian faith and upbeat personality make him a compelling figure. He already has the support of key GOP colleagues in the Senate; donors, too, are starting to see him as an alternative to DeSantis.

“He’s the one guy running who’s got some personality and charisma,” one GOP donor told Politico last week. “His delivery is terrific.”

Scott’s main problem is that he isn’t polling well enough to convincingly make the case that he is the man to take on Trump. For all his troubles, DeSantis is firmly in second place. And while the race may not be the two-man contest DeSantis once envisioned, his standing remains enviable compared with Scott’s.

Others are holding out hope for Glenn Youngkin, the first-term Virginia governor who combines some of DeSantis’s cultural warrior with a sunnier demeanor. It was that demeanor that allowed him to win northern Virginia’s liberal suburbs. The path to the presidency will run through similar parts of the Southeast and Midwest.

“Why Glenn Youngkin Would Be Crazy Not to Run for President,” went the headline of a Politico column published in March — that is, before DeSantis’s fortunes had started to seriously sink.

Youngkin has said he would not seek the presidency this year. That leaves open the possibility of his joining the field in 2024. But by then, it could be too late.

Read more from our partners: Tim Scott fires back at Obama over race remarks

Settling for Trump

Former President Donald Trump
Trump at a recent campaign event in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

Trump was never supposed to be the presidential nominee in 2016. But he plowed through the primary field, and most Republicans got in line. There would be voices of dissent both before and after his victory over Hillary Clinton, but these were generally drowned by support for the party’s new standard bearer.

Seven years later, he remains the heart and soul of the Republican Party. According to one poll, nearly 30% of GOP voters say they are more loyal to Trump than to the party itself. It may simply be time for Republican leaders to accept that the dream of a candidate who could defeat Trump is just that: a fantasy.

Read more from our partners: Why GOP voters are so loyal to Trump