As Ron DeSantis tries to catch up to Republican presidential primary front-runner Donald Trump, the Florida governor’s campaign has been making aggressive assertions that he has an advantage in terms of his “electability” against Joe Biden. The case for DeSantis being the better Republican general-election candidate has had less to do with any direct evidence than with the fading memories of his strong reelection performance in 2022, compared to the mixed results of Trump-endorsed midterms candidates and, of course, his loss to Biden in 2020.
But truth be told, a lot of DeSantis’s electability claims are more about Republican voters’ presumed lack of trust in Trump, which isn’t all that well established. In fact, a new Monmouth survey of Republicans shows Trump has an electability advantage over DeSantis. It’s not even very close. If you directly ask Republicans which candidate is stronger against Biden, Trump wins pretty clearly:
Regardless of whether you currently support Donald Trump, which of the following statements comes closest to your view about which Republican has the best chance to win in 2024.
Forty-five percent said Trump was definitely stronger and another 24 percent said Trump was probably stronger. Only 13 percent said any other Republican is definitely stronger, and 18 percent said some other Republican is probably stronger. Directly comparing Trump and DeSantis, 47 percent said the Florida governor was weaker than the former president; 22 percent said he was stronger.
It’s not just Monmouth showing DeSantis’s loss of an electability advantage (if he ever had one). As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes, this problem shows up in early state polls as well:
Fox Business polls in the key primary states of Iowa and South Carolina tell the same tale.
In recent weeks, DeSantis has deemphasized the argument that he’s more appealing to swing voters and instead focused on out-Trumping Trump by running to his right on immigration, crime, COVID-19, and federal spending. It’s possible he’s abandoning his once-obsessive electability pitch altogether and is going after hard-core “very conservative” and/or ultra-MAGA voters. Some right-wing Republicans believe, improbably, that swing voters actually want stridently ideological candidates rather than any sort of squishy centrists. And in the end, a candidate can’t win the general election at all without winning the nomination. More likely, Team DeSantis is going after today’s Trump voters by abandoning anything like moderation and perhaps making electability an afterthought.
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