Essential Politics: Will Trump vs. DeSantis break the GOP?

A man in a suit listens as president trump talks and waves his hands
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and then-President Trump meet at the White House in April 2020. They are now both vying for control of the Republican Party.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The relationship between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis seems to have reached its end.

The strife between the former president and Florida’s newly reelected governor comes amid the GOP’s less-than-stellar performance in the midterm elections. Republicans expected a “red wave” of voter backlash against the Biden administration. And they had every reason to assume it would occur: Incumbent president’s parties historically lose a lot of congressional seats during midterm elections.

But a red wave never came.

Though Republicans are on track to gain control of the lower chamber, their gains are far fewer than had been expected. In competitive districts, election deniers performed terribly, an apparent indication that Trump and his election lies are deeply unpopular among swing voters.

This has top Republicans worried about their prospects in the 2024 elections, when Trump will be on the ballot nationwide. An obvious alternative is DeSantis. The only problem is, Trump isn’t ready to give up his dream of being president again. How viable is a DeSantis vs. Trump showdown? Could DeSantis beat the former president?

Hello, friends. I’m Erin B. Logan. I cover national politics for the L.A. Times. Today, we are going to talk about presidential hopefuls and Trump’s grip on the GOP.

The end of an era?

Republicans spent much of this year excited about their potential during midterm elections. They ran on historic inflation, rising crime rates and the looming recession, which has caused voter anxiety for months. But their gains were not as big as they had hoped.

The performance has caused many within the party to openly cast doubt on Trump running again.

Billionaire Republican donor Ken Griffin called Trump a “three-time loser” and said the former president should make way for DeSantis. When asked by reporters, GOP Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming would not say whether she would endorse Trump for his 2024 run. “I don’t think that’s the right question,” she reportedly said. “I think the question is, who is the current leader of the Republican Party. I know who it is: Ron DeSantis.”

Trump is still widely popular among the core of the GOP, making it hard for anyone to break through in a primary race. But DeSantis is never far behind him and is beginning to outperform him in some polls.


DeSantis has long pledged his loyalty to the former president. In fact, during DeSantis’ first gubernatorial race, he went out of his way to make clear he and Trump were very close.

But the threat of a DeSantis matchup in the GOP presidential primary seems to have put Trump in a tizzy. He went out of his way to attack the governor, deriding him as “an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations” and giving him what seems to be the unfriendly nickname of “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

When asked Tuesday about Trump’s comments, DeSantis said he generally takes attacks against him as a sign of his success. “One of the things I’ve learned in this job is when you’re leading, when you’re getting things done, yeah, you take incoming fire,” DeSantis said during a news conference. “That’s just the nature of it.”

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The latest from the campaign trail

— In announcing his candidacy Tuesday night, Trump reverted to a familiar tactic — meeting weakness with hubris, Times writer Noah Bierman reported. Trump has been here before, perceived by opponents as vulnerable, and by allies as distracting or worse, only to reemerge with the help of his loyal base. His staying power has become an enduring problem for his party as he wields outsized sway in Republican primaries while proving a drag in general elections.

— U.S. Rep. Karen Bass’ already substantial lead in the Los Angeles mayor’s race became even larger Tuesday, with the longtime Washington lawmaker pulling more than 5% ahead of businessman Rick Caruso, one week after election day, Times writers James Rainey reported. The results marked the fifth straight updated vote totals in which Bass has gained ground on Caruso, a trend that most election observers have said seems all but certain to make Bass the first woman elected mayor in Los Angeles.


— Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, ensured her party will keep control of the Senate after she defeated Republican Adam Laxalt, the state’s former attorney general, Times writers Melanie Mason and Seema Mehta reported. The race was called Saturday by the Associated Press. Meanwhile, control of the U.S. House of Representatives remains too close to call, underscoring how Democrats continue to outperform expectations and deny the GOP a sizable majority. Biden, with his party holding the Senate, preserves his ability to confirm judicial nominees and Cabinet secretaries.

— Democrat Katie Hobbs was elected Arizona governor on Monday, defeating an ally of Trump who falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged and refused to say she would accept the results of her race this year, the Associated Press reported. Hobbs, who is Arizona’s secretary of state, rose to prominence as a staunch defender of the legitimacy of the last election and warned that her Republican rival, former television news anchor Kari Lake, would be an agent of chaos. Hobbs’ victory adds further evidence that Trump is weighing down his allies in a crucial battleground state. She will succeed Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who was prohibited by term limit laws from running again. She’s the first Democrat to be elected governor in Arizona since Janet Napolitano in 2006.

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The view from Washington

— House Republicans voted Tuesday to nominate Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as the next speaker, putting the Bakersfield lawmaker on track to achieve a long-sought ambition, Times writer Nolan D. McCaskill reported. But while the GOP is on the verge of securing a narrow House majority, its surprisingly poor performance in last week’s midterm election forced McCarthy to scramble much harder than had been expected to keep his caucus united and behind him. Even if he wins the top job when the new House convenes next January and elects a speaker, McCarthy faces a difficult road in corralling the party’s factions.

— Pledging to “manage” their fierce global competition, President Biden and China’s Xi Jinping on Monday sat down to their first in-person talks in years, appearing friendly and relaxed despite a nadir in relations between the world’s two superpowers, Times writers Courtney Subramanian and Tracy Wilkinson reported. The meeting in an Indonesia resort on the margins of the Group of 20 summit of the world’s leading economies lasted for several hours and came as the two countries spar over what Washington considers to be China’s oppression of dissidents and minorities at home and aggressive push to extend power and influence abroad. Beijing is angry over Biden’s maintenance of Trump-era trade restrictions and punitive sanctions that harm its economy. It was Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Xi since he became president, although the two leaders have dealt with each other for a decade.

— Since 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has protected more than 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, allowing them to work, drive and travel legally, Times writer Andrea Castillo reported. But the program never offered a pathway to citizenship. Trump moved to end DACA soon after taking office, but the program narrowly survived when the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that his administration had done so improperly. DACA became embroiled in litigation, and court rulings have limited the program to renewals. A case challenging its legality is expected to reach the Supreme Court, where legal experts believe the conservative majority will strike it down.

— Biden convened an “emergency” meeting of the Group of 7 and NATO leaders in Indonesia on Wednesday morning for consultations after NATO-ally Poland said a “Russian-made” missile killed two people in the eastern part of its country near the Ukraine border, the Associated Press reported. Poland said Wednesday there is “absolutely no indication” the missile was an intentional attack, and officials believe neighboring Ukraine likely launched the Soviet-era projectile as it fended off a Russian air assault that savaged its power grid.

The view from California

— Trump often denied that he watched CNN, but Gavin Newsom readily admits he’s a regular Fox News viewer, Times writer Taryn Luna reported. And he hates what he hears about California. The conservative cable network often criticizes the “California exodus” of residents who can’t afford to live here. Fox News host Tucker Carlson calls the state “a Third World country” that can’t keep the lights on. After Newsom accused Fox commentator Jesse Watters of “sowing the seeds” of the attack on Paul Pelosi, the host blamed the governor for not “deporting the deranged drug addict felon” who assaulted the 82-year-old husband of the House speaker with a hammer. As Newsom enters his second term, he said he feels the pressure to contradict that narrative from Fox and what he calls the Republican Party’s “surround-sound anger industry.”

— Few communities in Southern California have been more successful at saying “no” to large new developments over the last decade than Redondo Beach, Times writers Liam Dillon and Andrew J. Campa reported. The South Bay coastal city of 70,000 blocked a $400-million remake of its waterfront, reduced the size of proposed apartment buildings by dozens of units and even prohibited the construction of mixed-use residential and commercial projects in the city for a year. One of the masterminds of this slow-growth movement is Mayor Bill Brand, a 65-year-old former airline crew chief who has amassed power on a platform arguing that overdevelopment and traffic threaten the way of life in Redondo Beach. Brand’s influence has extended beyond his city’s borders as he’s become a key combatant against efforts by Newsom and state lawmakers to promote more home-building across California.

— Many in David DePape’s life were stunned when he was arrested in the attack of Paul Pelosi in what authorities said was a plot to kidnap and torture his wife, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Times writers Summer Lin, Salvador Hernandez and Terry Castleman reported. Nancy Pelosi was out of town during the attack. Since DePape’s arrest two weeks ago, much attention has been made of his extremist, antisemitic rantings and apparent belief in far-right conspiracy theories. But interviews with those who knew him for years present a more complicated view. They paint a portrait of a man who began to “deteriorate” over the last year and a half, as he spent a great deal of time alone, absorbing extremist views online and shifting his political views from supporting former President Obama years ago to believing in the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory.

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