One thing to consider as we watch Ron DeSantis’s campaign get started is just who is for him. Or perhaps there’s a better way to put it: Is anyone for him? My point here isn’t aggregate support. Polls suggest he currently has the support of between a quarter and a third of GOP primary voters. That’s a lot. But here I mean support in a more visible sense — among party and political elites, in the media, among fellow elected officials.
Needless to say, DeSantis’s hoped-for Democratic opposition isn’t crazy about him. But that’s built in.
A big part of his brand is going after the press. An antagonistic press is a challenge for any candidate. But that’s very baked into his political program, strategy and brand. The additional challenge though is that DeSantis doesn’t have a lot of personal charm that can allow a politician to connect with reporters even as he’s publicly dumping on them. For better or worse, Trump had a fair amount of that during the 2016 campaign. DeSantis is routinely described as distant and lacking in charm, a description which his public profile doesn’t do much to dispel.
But maybe the biggest issue is that a very large chunk of the party he wants to lead really, really wants him to fail. I don’t know if it’s 25% or 50% but it’s a lot either way. And they’re among the most vocal and prominent people in the party.
Put that all together and you’ve got a lot of people — from very different and opposing parts of the political spectrum — wanting DeSantis to fail and very invested in amplifying every misstep. He’s giving them a lot to work with.
The operative question is the one I raised above: Who’s for him? DeSantis has significant public support. But that support is likely soft because it’s mainly Republicans who are ready to move on from Trump. So it’s not about him. It’s about Trump and the idea that DeSantis is the guy who can pull off a succession. If he can’t, that support probably falls away pretty quickly. At least for now there’s just no ride-or-die chorus of DeSantis supporters.
The people giving DeSantis the most consistent public support are what we might call call non-Trump professional Republicans and conservative ideologues. They’re not anti-Trump, mostly. But they were around before Trump and they accepted him as party leader rather than becoming any kind of diehard loyalists. They are exactly the kind of people most receptive to the evidence that Trump is now a loser politically, both for himself in a general election and for other Republican candidates down the ballot.
None of these challenges are insurmountable. DeSantis’s real problem is running to succeed a party leader who has legions of diehard supporters and who is still running to stay party leader. But you can see these dynamics playing out in DeSantis’s public rollout. A lot of people are looking to trip him up and see him fail. And he lacks the kind of mass public cheering section which is so key to success in contemporary American politics.