Can Trump or DeSantis do it?


This time eight years ago voters thought they knew what to expect. The 2016 election will be a rematch between two dynasties that have defined Republican and Democratic politics since the 1990s.

Jeb Bush was the potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. Hillary Clinton will inevitably top the Democratic ticket.

Then Donald Trump happened.

Now another rematch is likely – between Trump and Joe Biden. Both men are determined to make it happen.

Biden changed the schedule to make his 2020 nomination, South Carolina, the first state to be the most important.

Trump has been campaigning since last year’s midterms and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, most notably, uses every opportunity to challenge the incumbent Republican leaders.

Democrats have no one who can win the nomination from an 80-year-old incumbent. Biden may be old, but he’s tough. He didn’t run for the presidency three times in 32 years only to hand over his prize once he snagged it.

Biden’s approval ratings are anemic. Yet he has reason to be confident that the 2024 electoral map will bring him back to office.

Trump and DeSantis will need to win industrialized Middle America to defeat Biden.
Mediapunch / Backgrid

He thinks he has a special affinity for the state of Pennsylvania. The other states that flipped from Republican to Democrat between 2016 and 2020 — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin — all elected Democratic governors or senators, or both, in last year’s midterms.

Georgia re-elected a Republican governor as well as a Democratic senator last year. But Biden could lose Georgia, or even Georgia and Arizona, and still win in 2024, if he keeps his grip on the Rust Belt.

Those industrialized states, badly affected by globalization, handed the White House to Trump in 2016 — and took it away from him in 2020.

A Republican will either have to win back the Rust Belt or widen the battleground map to win next year.

Trump in 2016 George W. Bush received more electoral votes in 2004 than in his successful re-election bid. Trump’s map remains the best map for the GOP.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is undeclared, but is already running a campaign through the state. Kahn

But it became Biden’s map in 2020. Can Ron DeSantis reclaim it for the Republicans?

In his gubernatorial campaign last year, DeSantis stormed to a 20-point re-election landslide over Charlie Crist. Republicans who want DeSantis for president say he has proven he can win a contested state.

But Trump also won Florida twice. DeSantis will have to prove his appeal to states that favored Democrats last year and in 2020.

Florida’s governor has the best chance to postpone another 2020 act next year. He trails Trump by double digits in recent polls, but then again, he can hardly match the former president’s name recognition.

A strong showing in the early primaries will give DeSantis momentum, and the governor can bet on doing well in many caucus states that chose Ted Cruz over Trump in 2016.

Trump in Washington, DC on Saturday. in, where he spoke to CPAC and won the Conservative Convention straw poll 62–20 over DeSantis.

Yet winning the straw poll in 2015 did little for Sen. Rand Paul in the primaries the following year.

DeSantis was addressing Republican Party regulars at the Harris County GOP Lincoln Reagan Dinner in Houston on Friday. Unannounced though he is, DeSantis is already running a campaign through the state.

Former President Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump has been campaigning since last year’s midterms.
Jack Gruber-USA Today/Sipa USA

The risks facing DeSantis are terrifying. Trump has already lashed out against the 44-year-old governor. The initial conflict between them will be dangerous. If DeSantis outdoes Trump, the former president can’t be counted on to concede in style.

With a divided party, DeSantis will nonetheless be portrayed by a hostile media in the same light as Trump.

At every debate and press conference, he will be asked to condemn everything Trump stands for, including Trump voters.

Biden and his surrogates will be happy to drive a wedge between DeSantis and Trump supporters on the one hand, and between the governor and Trump-fearing centrists on the other.

If he beats Trump but loses to Biden, DeSantis risks earning the unshakable hatred of Trump and his most die-hard fans while being viewed as a loser by Republican pragmatists — in his mid-40s. has yesterday’s news.

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis
Trump took jabs at DeSantis, who is considered his GOP competition.
AP/Buch Dill

None of Trump’s 2016 opponents emerged stronger than he entered.

DeSantis’ term as governor ends in early 2027, an opportune time to launch a presidential campaign the following year. If 2024 is a Biden-Trump rematch and the winner serves a full term, there will be no incumbent in 2028.

Yet DeSantis’ supporters don’t want him to wait, not least because they fear Trump’s election and yearn for the governor’s disciplined conservatism.

That puts the GOP on course for a bloody primary season.

But amid the carnage, the candidates can afford to overlook a truth that applies to Trump and DeSantis alike: Beating Biden will require winning industrialized Middle America.

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review.

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