Ron DeSantis’ no good, very bad campaign year

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and lavender tie
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event July 18 in West Columbia, S.C.
(Meg Kinnard / Associated Press)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t officially open his 2024 presidential campaign until late May, but by then, he was already on a downhill slide that now appears to be accelerating.

At least three factors account for DeSantis’ troubles, which led him to lay off roughly a third of his campaign staff — “aggressive steps to streamline operations,” as his campaign manager, Generra Peck told Politico, which first reported the cuts Tuesday.

Two of those factors sit largely outside his control, but the third goes to the heart of his campaign strategy.

One factor is the impact that former President Trump‘s indictments have had on the GOP race. The criminal charges have boxed in Trump’s rivals, keeping the spotlight focused on him, not them, and generating sympathy among Republican voters.


That won’t go away — indeed, attention to Trump’s legal troubles likely will only grow with at least one more federal indictment likely in the coming days as well as potential state charges against Trump in Georgia.

The second is the slow erosion of the boost DeSantis got after a landslide reelection in November, which provided one of the few bright spots for Republicans amid midterm disappointments that many party strategists blamed on Trump.

“I had gotten a lot of coverage in the aftermath of the midterm election,” the governor said in a recent Fox News interview. “That was a sugar-high.”

A long, steady slide

But those factors alone don’t account for the depth and prolonged nature of DeSantis’ slide.

When the year started, polls showed DeSantis with support from close to 4 in 10 Republican voters. Some surveys showed him ahead of Trump, others had him just a few paces behind.

Since then, DeSantis has lost roughly half his backing even as Trump’s support has grown. And while DeSantis can still claim to be ahead of the rest of the pack, even that has begun to look tenuous.

Recent polls by Fox Business in two early primary states, Iowa and South Carolina, showed DeSantis no longer firmly ahead of the rest in places where the candidates have spent extensive time and have begun spending money on advertising.


In Iowa, DeSantis was just slightly ahead of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, 16%-11%, a near-tie given the poll’s margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. In South Carolina, that state’s former Gov. Nikki Haley, DeSantis and Scott were bunched together, with Haley at 14%, DeSantis at 13% and Scott 10%. In both states, Trump led with nearly half the vote.

All that’s consistent with national surveys that show a steep plunge in DeSantis’ support.

For example, the latest national survey from Marquette University, released Thursday, found Trump leading DeSantis 46%-22%. Support for the Florida governor had dropped from 35% in March and 25% in May, Marquette found.

The most recent Monmouth University nationwide poll, released Tuesday, found Trump leading DeSantis 46%-20%. In December, a Monmouth survey had DeSantis in the lead, 39%-26%.

The Monmouth poll pointed to the crucial, third factor that has weighted down DeSantis’ campaign: Voters haven’t bought the message he’s selling.

DeSantis has tried to pitch himself to pro-Trump voters as a lot like the former president, but a stronger general election candidate and one who would be more effective at getting conservative policies adopted as president. He’s tried to make his attacks oblique and not directly criticize Trump, which would risk turning off conservative voters, who turn out heavily in GOP primaries.

“We’ve developed a culture of losing in this party,” he has said repeatedly at campaign events without specifying who was doing the losing.


“Governing is not about entertaining. Governing is not about building a brand or talking on social media and virtue signaling,” he said during a trip to Iowa a few days before formally announcing his campaign, again without naming anyone. “It’s ultimately about winning and producing results.”

But in making that case, DeSantis has not only tried to run against Trump from the right — wooing the roughly one-third of Republican voters who define themselves as strong supporters of Trump’s MAGA movement — he’s tried to do so by focusing on issues that are hot buttons on social media, but not often top priorities for most voters.

DeSantis’ long-running war with the Walt Disney Co. provides one example. Another is the video that DeSantis’ campaign circulated at the end of June that criticized Trump for supporting equal rights for gay Americans.

That tactic may have reached its point of no return on Wednesday when DeSantis suggested in a YouTube interview with conservative commentator Clay Travis that he could appoint anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and nominal Democrat Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control.

Republican voters, especially the MAGA supporters, have been unreceptive.

Just 1 in 5 Republican voters thought DeSantis would be a stronger candidate than Trump in an election against President Biden, Monmouth’s most recent poll found. Nearly half, 47%, said Trump would be stronger. Among strong MAGA supporters, 6 in 10 said Trump would be the stronger candidate.

DeSantis did no better on the effectiveness argument — 19% felt DeSantis would be more effective than Trump at getting his policies put in place, while 49% said Trump would be more effective, a share that rose to 70% among strong MAGA backers.

“DeSantis has not made any headway. The arguments that he’d be a stronger candidate and a more effective president than Trump have both fallen flat,” said Patrick Murray, the head of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

And as other surveys have shown, Republican voters insist they’re not concerned that Trump’s multiple indictments will hurt his election chances.


Only 11% of Republican voters told Monmouth they were very concerned that the indictments would make Trump a weaker candidate against Biden. Another 16% said they were somewhat concerned. Nearly half, 47%, said they were not at all concerned.

Perhaps that’s a rational judgment that attitudes toward Trump are so deeply felt that nothing will significantly shift them, perhaps its whistling past a graveyard. Whichever is true, it’s a powerful wall of denial that has blocked an approach that DeSantis, and other challengers, might have exploited.

Democrats, of course, have delighted in DeSantis’ decline.

“He decided to run on a platform that doesn’t resonate with anybody who isn’t watching Fox News 12 or more hours a day or living on Twitter,” said Eric Jotkoff, a Democratic consultant with long experience in Florida politics. “You can only get so far running a war against Mickey Mouse.”

But perhaps more telling is the lack of Republican voices speaking in DeSantis’ favor: He has won endorsements from just a handful of conservative members of Congress and one Republican governor.

Primary campaigns are often volatile, and there are examples of candidates coming back from slides similar to the one DeSantis is going through. And, to be fair, none of the other candidates has come up with a proven strategy against Trump.

The problem for DeSantis, however, is that he’s given non-MAGA Republicans, who may have flirted with him early this year because they thought he had the best chance of beating the former president, little reason to stick with him now that the aura of inevitability has worn off. Meantime, the lion’s share of MAGA voters have remained firmly with Trump.


His maneuverings have left DeSantis without a clearly defined base of support. If he can’t fix that, nothing else will matter.

An early look at the 2024 map

The presidential election is more than a year away, but several prominent political analysts have begun rolling out their early assessments of how the political map will shape up. The projections have been pretty consistent with one another, forecasting a close race with very few states in doubt and Democrats starting out with a small edge.

The latest entry came Thursday from the nonpartisan Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, which projects states holding 247 Electoral College votes as at least leaning Democratic and states holding 235 votes at least leaning Republican. Walter lists only four states, with 56 votes, as tossups: Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Winning the electoral college requires 270 votes.

Larry Sabato‘s Crystal Ball site issued a similar forecast last month, also with four tossup states. The difference is that Sabato’s site lists Nevada as a tossup and Pennsylvania as leaning to the Democrats, giving them a 260-235 edge to start with.

The latest from the campaign trail

Column: Trump’s Big Lie and the Republican Etch A Sketch strategy

Some things are so obvious, they scarcely bear mention. Birds fly. Fish swim. Politicians say things they hope will get them elected. There is, however, an important qualitative difference between telling voters what they’d like to hear or dialing an issue up or down depending on the audience and knowingly, calculatedly telling a flat-out lie. Trump lost the 2020 election. That is an incontrovertible fact, Mark Barabak writes in his column.


The latest from Washington

The GOP and the NRA want to stop gun violence research. California is a target

Last summer, the California Department of Justice accidentally published the personal information of roughly 192,000 firearm owners to the open internet. Gun owners protested; Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta apologized and launched an investigation. But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the leak is that the data existed in the first place. California is the epicenter of American gun violence research, largely because it maintains an extensive repository of firearms data and, unlike other states, has historically made much of the data available to scientists studying the root causes of gun deaths, Owen Tucker-Smith reported.

California Democrats ramp up pressure on Hollywood studios over actors’ strike

Democratic members of California’s congressional delegation, increasingly concerned about the ongoing strikes in Hollywood, are warning studios that they are watching, Eric Logan reported. “As thousands of our constituents engage in their legally and constitutionally protected capacity to participate in a work stoppage, we urge all parties to respect and affirm collective bargaining rights as these employees negotiate with their employers,” 37 Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to the presidents of Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Hollywood studios and streaming services.

The latest from California

A politician’s downfall reveals a Disney exec and a secret ‘cabal’s’ power over Anaheim

As an Anaheim City Council member, Jordan Brandman enjoyed relationships with lobbyists and corporate power brokers that went well beyond cozy. He was so close to Disneyland’s director of external affairs that they affectionately called each other “twin” and traded messages saying they loved each other. A lobbyist representing the city’s police officers union managed investments for Brandman, more than quadrupling the money he had put in. In a series of interviews with The Times, Brandman provided a rare insider’s look at how the city was run from when he became a council member in 2012 to when he stepped down in disgrace two years ago. His account, along with texts, emails and city records reviewed by The Times, describe relationships that went much deeper than the typical transactional ties that often bind lobbyists and government officials, Adam Elmahrek, Gabriel San Román and Nathan Fenno report.


LGBTQ+ culture wars surface in heated Riverside County congressional race

What could have been a routine vote in Congress to approve transportation funding has become a culture war flashpoint in one of the nation’s most competitive House races — the fight for a Riverside County seat, with GOP Rep. Ken Calvert facing a challenge from a Democrat in a race that is drawing national attention. Calvert, who has represented parts of the Inland Empire for more than 30 years, was among the House Republicans who voted last week to yank funding from three LGBTQ+ community centers in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, handing Democrat Will Rollins an easy attack line in the race to represent a district with one of the largest concentrations of LGBTQ+ voters in the nation, Seema Mehta reported.

California is second state to offer free prison phone calls. Is it already aiding rehabilitation?

At a time when most consumers enjoy free or low-cost calling, prison phone calls at their peak in California cost more than $6 per 15 minutes via a private telecommunications provider. This year California became the second state in the nation, and the largest to date, to mandate free calls in state prisons. Because family members bore the cost of the pricey calls, the new law eliminated a longstanding financial burden that forced many low-income people — particularly those of color — to choose between maintaining contact with incarcerated loved ones and putting food on the table. Prisoner advocates and state correction officials hope the benefits will go even further by speeding rehabilitation, reducing recidivism and easing the way for reentry into society, Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu and Helen Li reported.

Newsom’s plan to transform San Quentin prison lacks details but is moving ahead

Tucked in the back corner of San Quentin State Prison’s sprawling campus here sits a dilapidated warehouse, a humdrum building that’s fallen into disrepair since the days it was used as an office furniture factory. It’s also ground zero for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ambitious $380-million plan to transform the state’s oldest prison into a sweeping rehabilitation center modeled on the Scandinavian approach to incarceration, which focuses less on severe punishment and more on preparing individuals for life after prison, Hannah Wiley reported.


Newsom’s signature move at the California Capitol: Jam the Legislature

In a talk at a climate summit in New York, Newsom in September said he “had to jam” his own Democratic Legislature in order to pass a series of climate bills in the final days before lawmakers adjourned last year. The comment frustrated his legislative allies back in California and prompted Newsom to embark on an apology tour to smooth things over. He’s tried to ram major policy through the statehouse twice more since then, Taryn Luna reported.

Column: A massive borrowing binge is brewing in Sacramento

Left to their individual desires, California legislators would go on a massive borrowing binge, George Skelton writes in his column. They’d sell bonds to fund ambitious projects such as housing and treating homeless people who are mentally ill, controlling floods and updating classrooms — all worthy projects. But should they be paid for with borrowed money that, with interest, roughly doubles the projects’ cost? Or should they be financed with cash out of the state banking account, the general fund?

Sign up for our California Politics newsletter to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting.

Stay in touch

Keep up with breaking news on our Politics page. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get Essential Politics in your inbox.

Until next time, send your comments, suggestions and news tips to