Ron DeSantis is finally turning his fire on Donald Trump, though admittedly in a much more cautious manner than have some others.
The Florida governor was back on the campaign trail this week and spoke to reporters in New Hampshire on Tuesday, where alongside the state’s Republican governor he is attempting to capture some momentum and break out from the pack of Trump alternatives running for the GOP 2024 nomination.
“This is a different Donald Trump than in 2015 and 2016,” he told a small crowd of voters assembled in a restaurant, while claiming that the ex-president was “wedded” to the teleprompter.
“In 2016, he was freewheeling, he's out there barnstorming the country, doing all this. Now, it's just a different guy, and it's sad to see,” said the governor.
His campaign, eager to capitalise on the moment, quickly posted video of the remarks to Twitter/X.
This is a different Donald Trump from 2016. pic.twitter.com/ygyFCIsbq2
— Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantis) October 24, 2023
Mr DeSantis launched his campaign earlier this year, and from the beginning has been plagued by criticism of underperformance in polls and claims that he is a “bad candidate”, referring to his sometimes awkward demeanour and inability to connect with voters on the ground. His polling numbers have remained largely unchanged since he entered the race, though they have dipped slightly in recent weeks as rival Nikki Haley has picked up steam.
The governor’s main issue — one he shares with every other Trump alternative in the race — remains the former president’s polling dominance, which has been a factor in the race since the beginning. Mr Trump is nearing consolidation of roughly six in 10 Republican voters, nationally, tilting the race decisively in his favour and leaving his opponents squabbling amongst themselves for the remaining oxygen.
The performances of Mr DeSantis and others have led to questions about whether the Trump-alternative candidates truly have the ability to effectively attack the race’s frontrunner. Many, including the governor in the past, have been outright deferential to the former president, especially on issues surrounding his growing legal jeopardy.
And complicating that matter is Mr Trump’s refusal to attend the ongoing Republican debate series, an unheard of move for a major candidate but one that the former president has justified with that same polling lead. His campaign argues that the primary is already decided, and that Mr Trump would gain nothing by allowing other Republicans with little chance of winning to attack him live in front of the cameras.
In New Hampshire, Mr DeSantis is now barely in the top tier of candidates at all. He is currently languishing in third place on a FiveThirtyEight average of polls, and could easily see his campaign slip behind fourth-place contender Chris Christie given the close margin separating the two.