When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gathered top allies with deep pockets last week in Miami for a three-day “Ron-o-Rama” retreat, his team made the case for a path to victory. But there’s a major problem with the Team DeSantis logic: Its case for DeSantis’ path to victory actually worked better for his chief rival, former President Donald Trump.
The rationale hinges on myriad assumptions, and even those who are shaky.
Leaked audio and slides obtained by Florida Politics show contradicting claims, spun in a way meant to make it sound like DeSantis is not just a shot, but a good one.
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However, the information presented raises more questions than it answers.
The data used showed both DeSantis and Trump virtually tied. It’s the job of campaign staffers to find silver linings in anything, and deploying a “rah-rah, we’re just as popular as Trump” mantra is a prime example. But anyone who knows anything about politics—or who even has a shred of logic—can look at the broader data and see that this is actually bad news for DeSantis.
Most polls have DeSantis trailing Trump by double digits, with the Real Clear Politics average showing Trump up by 22 percentage points in Iowa, 18 points in New Hampshire and 25 points in South Carolina—all early-voting states that often break candidates before they even really get started.
This is important because DeSantis’ logic also depends on making it to the winner-takes-all Florida primary, which also carries a huge haul of delegates.
Team DeSantis presented data showing him with better favorability in those early-voting states, which also includes Nevada. Its data puts DeSantis 18 percentage points ahead of Trump’s favorability in Iowa, 5 points ahead in New Hampshire and Nevada and 13 points ahead in South Carolina.
The leaked audio from the DeSantis donor event includes a presentation that tries to explain why DeSantis isn’t running stronger against Trump. The argument is that is because the governor had not yet entered the race (the retreat began as DeSantis was officially announcing his bid.)
But that excuse also means the opposite is true—Florida’s governor has not yet faced substantive attacks as a presidential candidate, suggesting his favorability may be inflated, likely based on positive conservative press coverage. It’s also important to note that Trump’s favorability, as a candidate who has been on the ballot in these crucial early primary states twice, has been tested. DeSantis’ has not.
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DeSantis’ team also talked up the large share of voters in early voting states who believe DeSantis is ready to become president, with 62 percent in Iowa, 50 percent in New Hampshire, 47 percent in South Carolina, and 56 percent in Nevada. What the talking points ignore is that 27-42 percent of voters in those states believe he’s not ready.
Political campaigners know they have to boast about any metric showing net favorability. But any political observer would tell you those large negative numbers are a discouraging sign for a candidate, especially one with a near-universal name ID.
Additionally, DeSantis’ team presented data showing voters believe the governor to be more conservative than Trump, a fact the presenter can be heard in the leaked audio saying “is really important in a Republican primary.” Indeed, DeSantis is considered “very conservative” by half of likely GOP voters in Iowa, 43 percent of New Hampshire GOP voters, 45 percent in South Carolina and 48 percent in Nevada.
But there’s another problem—DeSantis is losing to Trump by a wider margin among voters who consider themselves “more conservative” than Republicans in general, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll.
And here’s a really big problem for DeSantis: All of this data, the assumptions made, and the details ignored happened inside just four minutes of the leaked audio recording, which goes on for more than 40 minutes. In the first four minutes, Team DeSantis made a compelling argument for a path to the GOP presidential nomination, but it made the argument for Trump.
It doesn’t get any better, either.
The presenter heard on the leaked audio then moves on to how the team can “build this math going forward” and displays a chart showing “the battlefield.”
This little math assignment acknowledged the 35 percent of Republican primary voters who will inevitably support Trump “even if his name isn’t on the ballot.” It also acknowledged the 20 percent of voters who were “never Trump” and believed DeSantis was too Trumpy to support him, either. But its primary focus is on the roughly 15 percent of voters in “the battleground.”
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Assuming Team DeSantis’ math is correct, which may very well not be, DeSantis would need to earn a healthy margin of the 15 percent “battlefield,” a bold assumption if this is the path to victory.
why? Because public polling in multiple states shoots the math all to hell.
Taken as a whole, the presentation, at best, paved a very narrow path to victory for the governor. At worst, it succeeded in highlighting Trump’s path to victory, and not one for DeSantis as intended.
In any case, donors may have left the retreat with more questions than answers about how to send DeSantis to the White House. Team DeSantis is likely hoping they’re not questioning their investment in his campaign.
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