10 min read

DeSantis’ stock sinks

Ron DeSantis, once seen as a promising Trump-slayer, is getting a second look from the Washington establishment.
DeSantis’ stock sinks
(Gage Skidmore)

Good morning! It’s Monday, March 27, 2023. The 2024 elections are 589 days away.

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The conventional wisdom on DeSantis 2024 has quickly changed

The Washington establishment giveth, and the Washington establishment taketh away.

Just a few weeks ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was tied with former President Donald Trump in head-to-head Republican primary polls. He was about to kick off a state legislative session where he would rack up policy accomplishments. And the political set here in Washington — from journalists to donors — was giddy about the idea of a Trump v. DeSantis clash.

Finally, the thinking went, Trump had met an at-least-somewhat-worthy Republican opponent.

The D.C. commentariat has changed its mind. In a whiplash-inducing change not seen since Joe Biden was declared dead in the water and then crowned nominee-in-waiting, the “Gang of 500” has apparently decided that Ron DeSantis doesn’t have what it takes to go up against The Donald.

Here at Wake Up To Politics, we try not to buy so easily into these quick shifts of conventional wisdom. Most likely neither permutation of the D.C. groupthink about DeSantis — he’s a giant-slayer! he’s a loser! — is entirely correct, and it’s too early to know which one will win out.  

But we still watch the shifts quite closely, in order to narrate and interpret them for you. So it’s worth breaking down why the political class has decided en masse to end the DeSantis-for-president boomlet — even with the caveat that you shouldn’t necessarily buy into it. As far as I can tell, there are three main arguments that explain the sudden change:

1. DeSantis lacks a “killer spirit.”

DeSantis hasn’t even announced yet, and Trump is already running a no-holds-barred campaign against his former protégé, throwing anything he can against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Shocking, and completely unfounded, allegations? Check. Juvenile nicknames? Check. Elaborate story about his rival crying and calling him “sir”? Check.

We’ve seen this movie before: it’s more or less the same playbook Trump used against his Republican opponents in 2016. Like Trump’s targets then, DeSantis has mostly opted to grin and bear it, taking the high road and refusing to sling much mud back. (So far, at least.)

That refusal to respond, this argument goes, is why DeSantis’ standing in the polls has quickly sunk in the past few weeks, as he leaves Trump’s brutal attacks unanswered. “Right now, Ron DeSantis lacks the killer spirit to vanquish Trump,” conservative commentator Matt Lewis concluded on Friday, adding that DeSantis “has been able to stack the deck in his favor in Florida.” But outside the controlled atmosphere of the Sunshine State, Lewis argued, the governor no longer seems like such a political dynamo.

2. DeSantis is too wooden.

Throughout his electoral career, Trump has not been known to love the grip-and-grin of politics. But, in recent weeks, his campaign has organized several spontaneous events (a statement that would sound oxymoronic outside of presidential politics), to show off his more freewheeling side.

Per the Washington Post, these diner stops and McDonald’s visits have been a strategic choice to draw a contrast with DeSantis, whose pre-campaign travel “has consisted of more scripted and stage-managed events, often where the row of cameras that Trump so loves are excluded and the rituals of more intimate politics are limited.”

Trump may not love gladhanding, but DeSantis seems to loath it. Recently, at a book event in Tallahassee, the governor spent precisely seven seconds with each attendee. When he was in Iowa, the New York Times memorably captured him confusing a University of Florida mother by talking about a policy change that wouldn’t affect her instead of just asking about her son. (At both events, his fans said they didn’t mind the awkward, rushed encounters.)

Importantly for how the media covers them, the two also relate to journalists differently. Trump is back to his all-access days, gaggling with reporters at the back of his plane. DeSantis generally doesn’t let reporters into his events, and freezes up when they yell out questions at him outside of the confines of a press conference.

3. DeSantis’ stance on Ukraine.

The political establishment — in both parties — remains fairly hawkish on foreign policy issues, and certainly remains united in support of Ukraine.

Which is why it roiled Washington when DeSantis declared, on anti-establishment brawler Tucker Carlson’s show no less, that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a mere “territorial dispute” and that defending Kyiv was not in the “vital” interests of the United States.

Then DeSantis dug a deeper hole by committing an even worse sin in the eyes of D.C. insiders: flip-flopping. DeSantis now says his comments — quoted in full by Carlson — were “mischaracterized,” walking back the “territorial dispute” line and condemning Putin as a “war criminal.”

The episode was seemingly proof of another argument building against DeSantis: he is trying to be too many things for too many people, and therefore pleasing nobody. “He’s trying out too broad of a coalition; he’s trying to have this coalition of Gateway Pundit readers and National Review readers under the same tent,” a Trump ally told New York Magazine recently, referring to the far-right and more center-right rags, respectively.  

Of course, Trump has made no apologies for praising Putin (even after the Russian invasion began). Opening for Trump at a rally just this weekend, Ted Nugent called Volodymyr Zelensky a “homosexual weirdo.” But, yet again, different rules apply to Trump: look no further than the gaggle of Republicans who jumped on DeSantis for his Ukraine stance but remain quiet on Trump’s identical position. (Lindsey Graham, for example, compared DeSantis’ original comments to a “Neville Chamberlain approach.” But the man Graham has endorsed for the presidency, Trump, shares DeSantis’ opinion.)

Here’s another theory: maybe it’s just the polling. As the New York Times’ Nate Cohn shows, “Every single [Republican primary poll in the past two months] has shown Mr. DeSantis faring worse than before, and Mr. Trump faring better.”

Insiders like a winner, and now that DeSantis is losing, pundits are selling their stock as quick as they can. “It’s like a run on the National Bank of DeSantis,” liberal commentator Josh Marshall wrote, noting the same phenomenon. (For what it’s worth, DeSantis does perform better in state polls than national surveys.)

Meanwhile, the bank run is extending even to DeSantis’ own allies. Per NBC News, a group of 16 prominent pro-DeSantis and and anti-Trump Republicans recently gathered in Florida “discussed misgivings about the governor’s standing for the future if he tussles with the former president.”

Conservative megadonors Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein are apparently pausing their giving to DeSantis, after throwing a combined $500,000 at his re-election campaign. “The brakes are pumped,” someone familiar with their thinking told NBC.

Some in DeSantis’ orbit now think the governor would be better off if he waited on a presidential run until 2028. Politico reports that some even think he should run for Senate next year. That’s extremely far-fetched, but it’s revealing that people close to him are even talking about such a demotion for someone who was recently regarded as a possible president.

The reality is, Trump was just never going to be beat as easily as some people thought (or hoped). That doesn’t mean he can’t be beat, but it was going to be an uphill battle all along — which some political observers let themselves forget. No Republican deus ex machina was ever going to come.  

Trump remains beloved by a large portion of the GOP base, as evidenced by the thousands who thronged to his rally in Waco, Texas this weekend. That rally showed his strengths in a Republican primary, but also his vulnerabilities in a general election, as he celebrated January 6th and continued his apocalyptic rhetoric.

But it truly is still early, so don’t buy into any of the conventional wisdom (no matter its direction) just yet. DeSantis hasn’t even announced yet: his tone towards Trump, and his poll numbers, could easily shift once he does.

And there are plenty of campaign-season twists and turns — possibly even an indictment — that await, any of which have the power to change things, once again, on a dime.  

The Rundown

ISRAEL: “Workers from a range of sectors in Israel launched a nationwide strike on Monday, threatening to paralyze the economy as they joined a surging protest movement against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary.” AP

  • A spokesperson told Axios that the White House is “deeply concerned by the ongoing developments in Israel,” including the “potential impact on military readiness” raised by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who was ousted by Netanyahu after calling for the plan to be delayed.

NEW YORK: “The FBI and NYPD are investigating a letter containing a death threat and white powder that was mailed to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office is investigating former President Donald Trump.” NBC News

  • The Manhattan grand jury investigating Trump is expected to reconvene today, according to the Wall Street Journal.

WASHINGTON: “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Sunday that lawmakers ‘will be moving forward’ with legislation to address national security concerns surrounding TikTok after the social media giant’s CEO faced hours of hostile questioning before a congressional panel last week.” NBC News

More headlines to know

  • “McConnell returns home after treatment for concussion” Politico
  • “Biden’s pick to lead the FAA withdraws from nomination” CNN
  • “Biden’s Justice Dept. keeps hard line in death row cases” AP


President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing and deliver remarks at the second annual Women’s Business Summit hosted by the Business Administration (SBA).

First Lady Biden will deliver remarks at the National League of Cities (NLC) Congressional Cities Conference.

Vice President Harris is in Ghana as part of a weeklong trip to Africa. She will meet with Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo, hold a joint press conference with him, meet with local artists and entertainers at a “co-working space and community recording studio,” and attend a State Banquet hosted by Akufo-Addo.

Second Gentleman Emhoff is in Ghana with his wife. He will participate in a town hall on “women’s empowerment, health, and combating peer pressure” with Ghanaian actors, attend an all-girls basketball clinic organized by the NBA’s global youth basketball program, deliver remarks at a legal aid event, and attend the State Banquet.

The Senate will hold a cloture vote to advance S.316, which would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs) against Iraq.

The House will vote on three China-related bills:

  • The PRC Is Not a Developing Country Act, which would make it U.S. policy for the Secretary of State to urge international organizations to reclassify China as a developed, not developing, country.
  • The Undersea Cable Control Act, which would require the Biden administration to develop a strategy to prevent China from obtaining “goods and technologies capable of supporting undersea cables.”
  • The Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act, which would allow the Secretary of State to deny passports and visas to individuals involved in illegal organ trafficking (with an explicit emphasis on Chinese organ traffickers).

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases:

  • Amgen Inc. v. Sanofi, a dispute over whether Amgen’s patent for cholesterol-lowering antibodies is too broad.
  • United States v. Hansen, a case stemming from the indictment of Helaman Hansen, who convinced more than 450 people to immigrate illegally to the U.S. or overstay their visas by falsely claiming they could become citizens if they paid him for an “adult adoption” program.

Hansen was charged under 8 U.S.C. §1324(a)(1)(iv), which makes it illegal to “encourage” or “induce” unlawful immigration. He appealed the indictment, arguing that the statute violates the First Amendment. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him, leading the U.S. government to ask the Supreme Court to take the case.

Both the ACLU and the Cato Institute have filed amicus briefs in favor of Hansen, while 26 Republican-led states filed a brief siding with the government.

Before I go...

It’s cherry blossom season here in D.C. Here are some pictures I snapped at the National Mall yesterday, as a kite festival turned out to be happening at the same time.  🌸 🪁

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— Gabe