So far, Governor Ron DeSantis has yet to actually announce his candidacy for president, despite the fact he all but certainly will jump in the ring. But his decision to wait until the conclusion of Florida’s legislative session and to not directly attack former president Donald Trump has made him uniquely vulnerable to the former president’s barbs.
This weekend, Mr DeSantis caught a break when he and Mr Trump both happened to be in Iowa and the former president’s event got rained out. This gave Mr DeSantis, a politician notorious for his poor retail politics skills, to press the flesh unfettered by the spectre of the former president.
But Mr DeSantis took two kicks to the chin on Tuesday evening. First in Jacksonville, the 12th largest city in America, Mr DeSantis had endorsed the Republican candidate Daniel Davis for mayor.
Jacksonville was the largest city in the United States with a Republican mayor. But Democrat Donna Deegan beat back Mr Davis and will become the city’s first female mayor.
Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Mr DeSantis and Mr Trump engaged in a proxy war in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Mr Trump had endorsed Attorney General Daniel Cameron. This came despite the fact that Mr Cameron is a known protege of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Mr Trump despises but who keeps an iron grip on the state party. Mr DeSantis, for his part, endorsed Mr Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft in the primary.
Ultimately, Mr Cameron prevailed and Mr Trump could not help but gloat on Truth Social, calling the governor “DeSanctimonious” and saying “The DeSanctimonious backed candidate came in a DISTANT third. Ron’s magic is GONE!” Mr Trump also noted that “DeSanctimonious lost Jacksonville and Kentucky last night. Not good!!!”
Of course, endorsements alone do not determine election results, and multiple factors played into the results in Jacksonville and Kentucky – they are both off-year elections with significantly low turnout. But Mr DeSantis still chose to get involved in both races to flex his political clout, and now he has little to show for it.
Polling has shown that Mr DeSantis has taken a steep tumble ever since his resounding double-digit re-election campaign in November. And when Mr DeSantis has tried to even subtly attack the former president, as he tried doing before Mr Trump’s arrest in relation to hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, he has faced the MAGA wrath.
Not only that, but even when Mr DeSantis’ surrogates try to hit back at the former president, it does Mr DeSantis more harm than good. Last week, during Mr Trump’s CNN town hall, Never Back Down, a Super PAC that supports Mr DeSantis, put out a tweet deriding Mr Trump. But Semafor reported that the super PAC now regrets putting out the tweet, with one person calling it a “massive mistake.”
Mr Trump and Mr DeSantis are also now engaged in a war of words on abortion, with Mr Trump hitting Mr DeSantis for signing a six-week abortion ban. He told newly launched outlet The Messenger, “Many people within the pro-life movement feel that that was too harsh,” while Mr DeSantis said “Protecting an unborn child when there’s a detectable heartbeat is something that almost 99% of pro-lifers support.”
All of this comes before Mr DeSantis has even thrown his hat in the race. But he risks being significantly weakened right out of the gate, with his best hope riding on the possibility that Mr Trump will implode.