One of the clearest takeaways from the 2022 midterm was that Trump-backed candidates did quite poorly. Meanwhile Ron DeSantis chalked up a thundering reelection victory in Florida, just shy of 60% of the vote. That is the kind of reelection victory that cues up a big state governor for a presidential run. DeSantis can say plausibly that he essentially owns the state of Florida and that he has a politics that sells in a large and diverse state. These factors have begun to coalesce into a push within the GOP to move not beyond Trumpism, which DeSantis embodies, but beyond Trump himself. Trump is old, profoundly divisive, in deep legal trouble. Meanwhile Republicans have suffered defeat in the last three electoral cycles largely because of opposition to him.
Moving away from Trump, though, will be a lot harder than it looks.
To state the obvious, Trump will not go quietly. In recently days he’s become increasingly bold and threatening toward DeSantis. This isn’t a matter of strength. He clearly feels threatened by DeSantis. And he should. He has announced what will likely be a campaign announcement for November 15th. He wants to make it explicitly clear before any more time goes by that any moves DeSantis makes toward the nomination are moves against Trump. Republicans have to choose sides.
I don’t discount the possibility that DeSantis could beat Trump for the 2024 nomination. I don’t think it’s likely. But I do think it’s very possible. But if DeSantis can beat Trump, Trump can also inflict a huge amount of damage on DeSantis and the whole Republican party. Do we really expect Trump to go quietly? To have his last chapter be one of ignominious defeat? I doubt it.
We’re now in yet another one of those liminal moments when Republican stakeholders pull away from Trump briefly before running back to him — after the Access Hollywood tape, after the first big Russia revelations, after the insurrection. I suspect they do the same here. But if they don’t, it’s not like that concludes or settles anything. Trump’s hold on the GOP really is diminished. I saw an exit poll this week that showed that the percentage of Republicans that said they were more Trump supporters than Republicans had fallen dramatically. But he still owns at least a plurality of the GOP.
He won’t go quietly. He probably won’t go at all. And in either case he will fight a grievous war against anyone and everyone in the GOP he believes betrayed him.