It’s never a great look when a politician hits a rough patch and blames it on the news media. But rather than blaming Donald Trump for his recent 2024 campaign troubles — or even taking some responsibility for his bungled start — Florida governor Ron DeSantis keeps making the cringeworthy claim that his campaign is actually going gangbusters but is being artificially downgraded by liberal scribes who fear him.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the media does not want me to be their candidate,” DeSantis recently told Fox News when asked how he plans to overcome Trump’s lead. “They’ve tried to create a narrative that somehow the race is over.”
You have to wonder if DeSantis had any idea that reports were about to come out on Fox’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, beginning to regard the governor’s political stock as a bad investment. But let’s say he was just talking about the liberal mainstream media, that great nemesis for all conservative politicians. Is it true that they (we?) fear DeSantis as the GOP nominee and are thus developing a “narrative” that “somehow the race is over,” presumably to head off the awful specter of a DeSantis-Biden general election? You can see why that’s a story Team DeSantis would relish since it both implies the candidate’s problems are imaginary and encourages Republican primary voters to support their enemies’ enemy.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense.
For one thing, reporting that the DeSantis campaign is encountering problems doesn’t mean writing him off (as a matter of fact, I just wrote a piece the other day arguing it was far too early for that). But the candidate has some basic weaknesses that have been evident for some time.
As my colleague Jonathan Chait observed back in April, DeSantis is potentially a very vulnerable general-election candidate:
He has gone on the record in the past supporting both privatization and benefit cuts for Social Security and Medicare, a position so deeply toxic that even most Republican voters recoil from it. More recently, he signed a ban on abortion after six weeks, a period so restrictive it virtually amounts to a complete ban …
Yes, DeSantis would be able to regain some of the orthodox Republican voters repelled by Trump’s personal style. But he would forfeit not only some of the Trump cultists whose only connection to Republican politicians is a personal attachment to the 45th president but also some of the working-class voters Trump attracted by discarding some of his party’s unpopular issue baggage.
Since April, DeSantis has doubled down on trying to run to Trump’s right. He has gone hog wild not only with an abortion stance that may be kryptonite to his swing-voter appeal but on positions like his hostility to COVID-19 measures (including vaccines) and his demands for militarization of the southern border, which may appeal to the GOP base at the cost of alienating the general electorate. If he keeps pursuing this strategy while chasing Trump from far behind, you have to figure that by the time the deal goes down in 2024, the DeSantis who won an easy reelection in Florida in 2022 may be all but unrecognizable to those who voted for him mostly because the state’s economy was doing well.
But you don’t just have to speculate about how offensive a crazed MAGA monster out-Trumping Trump may be to swing voters down the road. You can look at polls right now and see the evidence that DeSantis has no actual general-election advantage over Trump despite his team’s constant assertions that he is more electable. According to the RealClearPolitics polling averages, trial heats show Trump trailing Joe Biden by 0.2 percent (43.8 percent to 43.6 percent). DeSantis trails Biden by 1.5 percent. It’s not a meaningful difference, but it does show that the breezy self-confidence with which many DeSantis boosters assume he’s Democrats’ biggest nightmare is based on supposition, if not superstition.
Perhaps DeSantis backers would argue that the governor isn’t kicking Biden’s ass just yet because his sterling virtues aren’t as well known as they will be after he runs a couple of hundred million dollars worth of ads. But a look at DeSantis’s favorability ratio (better than Trump’s or Biden’s but still underwater) suggests that may not be true either. His RCP polling averages are currently at 37.9 percent favorable and 45.2 percent unfavorable. So to know him is not necessarily to love him; more exposure as the 2024 race heats up may not improve his standing against Biden.
None of this data, of course, factor in the signs that are actually the source of recent negative media stories: DeSantis, for all his money and the incessant boasting of his campaign and super-PAC staffs, isn’t running a particularly tight operation.
It’s a separate question, of course, as to whether Democrats would prefer dealing with an actually inaugurated Trump or DeSantis. No one knows exactly how either man would conduct himself in the Oval Office, and a lot would depend on what happens downballot as well. But to the extent that DeSantis’s route to the nomination involves capturing the heart of Trump’s base of support, the odds are very high that by the time Republicans (likely) nominate one of them, their differences would be less significant than ever before. As Chait put it:
The best option for any liberal, moderate, or believer in democracy is to keep the Republicans away from power until they become sane again. In the meantime, the party has nothing to offer but different kinds of bad choices.
So no, liberal media aren’t lashing out at DeSantis because he strikes them as a world-beater. Right now, DeSantis’s objective standing in the 2024 contest doesn’t require any negative spin.
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