Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis Jockey for Position Ahead of Potential 2024 Showdown

I hope DeSantis wins the nomination.

At WSJ, "Former president paying close attention to Florida governor’s polling and fundraising; ‘Only Ron matters’":

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.—The current front-runners for the Republican presidential nod are both in Florida. Whether Palm Beach or Tallahassee is more likely to produce the eventual winner might depend on if GOP voters here and around the country want an encore from the party’s most dominant voice or prefer to hand the stage to its fast-climbing star.

Former President Donald Trump is very likely to run again in 2024, aides say, and he has said publicly that he is weighing whether he should announce before or after this November’s midterm elections. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has developed his own devout following and is one of the few potential 2024 contenders who hasn’t said he would defer to Mr. Trump, though there are several other high-profile candidates who could end up challenging one or both men.

Once close allies—Mr. Trump’s endorsement helped fuel Mr. DeSantis’s rise, and Mr. DeSantis lavished praise on him in return—the two Republicans have jabbed at each other across the state, particularly over each man’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr. DeSantis is capturing the interest of some Trump voters, as well as party officials and donors.

Here in Hollywood, among 1,500 GOP activists at a guitar-shaped resort on Saturday evening, many said Mr. DeSantis should run for president because they like his brand of defiant conservatism.

“I haven’t backed down one inch and we are not going to back down,” Mr. DeSantis said at a political summit he hosted at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

That same night, Mr. Trump gave a speech to young conservatives in Tampa, Fla., and again teased a return, claiming falsely—to wild applause—that he had already won two presidential elections. “And now we may just have to do it again,” he said. The 45th president returns to Washington Tuesday afternoon for a speech before a policy group made up of members of his administration.

Their budding rivalry is top of mind for Florida GOP insiders—and in other key states—many of whom are torn over having to pick sides and would rather not see a clash arrive, though they expect one. Some hope Mr. Trump, 76, won’t run and some want Mr. DeSantis, 43, to wait his turn. Others fantasize about a Trump-DeSantis ticket.

Recent surveys have shown that Mr. Trump retains the backing of most GOP voters. But polling and interviews with voters in many states have shown signs the former president’s support has ebbed, and congressional hearings into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have reminded Republicans of the controversies around Mr. Trump. A Quinnipiac poll this month found 69% of Republicans wanted Mr. Trump to run again, down from 78% last October, and a recent New Hampshire survey showed Messrs. Trump and DeSantis statistically tied in the state, leaving Mr. Trump fuming, advisers to the former president say.

Mr. DeSantis, who declined an interview request, is favored to win re-election in November, and he hasn’t joined the parade of candidates in other races around the country wooing Mr. Trump for his endorsement. The former president has asked friends about how Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist is performing in his bid to take on Mr. DeSantis in November—implying, according to people familiar with the discussions, he wants his understudy to sweat a little.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Monday, Mr. Trump said he would vote for Mr. DeSantis’s re-election in November but quickly turned to his role in helping Mr. DeSantis four years ago. “If I didn’t endorse him, he wouldn’t have won,” Mr. Trump said. “I get along with Ron very well,” he added, before mentioning “a very good poll this weekend”—an unscientific straw poll of young conservatives at the Tampa conference that showed him beating Mr. DeSantis by a wide margin.

A person close to Mr. Trump said he wasn’t concerned about other would-be 2024 candidates, including former Vice PresidentMike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and several conservative senators.

“Only Ron matters,” the person said.

Another Republican who talks to the former president said, “Trump wants to find something harder to say but really can’t because DeSantis has played it well.”

While President Biden’s advisers see an upside in a rematch with Mr. Trump, some are concerned over the prospect of the nation’s oldest-ever president facing the younger, more-disciplined governor, according to people familiar with the discussions. Messrs. Biden and DeSantis have often criticized each other’s policies in their public remarks.

Mr. DeSantis acknowledges Mr. Trump’s role in his rise, thanks to an endorsement over a better-known Republican in the 2018 governor race, and the two differ more on personality than substance. Mr. DeSantis, then a congressman from near Jacksonville, Fla., caught Mr. Trump’s eye through Fox News appearances attacking the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

After narrowly winning that contest, Mr. DeSantis, a Florida native who played baseball at Yale and has a Harvard law degree, has become one of the state’s most powerful executives ever. He has frequently won turf fights with the GOP-controlled Legislature while building a national profile for eschewing Covid-19 restrictions, battling the social advocacy of Walt Disney Co. and banning the instruction of critical-race theory from schools.

Mr. DeSantis has also won bipartisan support for his environmental record, including money for conservation and Everglades restoration. He has raised teacher pay and given bonuses to first responders. And he has frustrated Democrats by touting projects in the state funded by the Biden administration’s Covid-19 aid and infrastructure bills that he criticized.

In December, Mr. Trump was booed by supporters after saying he received a booster shot. The governor—who publicized his first vaccine shot—had refused to say whether he had received a second shot, prompting Mr. Trump to say politicians who wouldn’t disclose their status were “gutless.”

A few days later, Mr. DeSantis said on a conservative podcast that he wished he had spoken out “much louder” against the Trump administration’s calls for a nationwide shutdown at the start of the pandemic...