I suppose the guy who led the other guy by nearly, uh, 50 points would have to be declared the big winner of the poll.
But if I were DeSantis, I’d be encouraged by this result. A lot more encouraged than I was by that McLaughlin poll showing Trump on top 55/9 and DeSantis ahead of Mike Pence by just five points in a Trump-less field.
What explains the difference between that poll and yesterday’s CPAC straw poll? Simple: McLaughlin polled Republican voters nationally while CPAC caters to activists specifically. DeSantis has made inroads with the Trumpiest, most motivated parts of the base while most of the GOP electorate, which is less inclined to follow politics closely during off years, isn’t paying much attention to him yet.
Lotta room to grow here, in other words.
But if Trump were to run in 2024, CPAC straw poll shows….
Rand Paul 1%
Nikki Haley 1%
Ted Cruz 1%
Tucker Carlson 1%
Kristi Noem 1%
Mike Pompeo 1%
Everyone else 0% (includes Hawley, Pence)
— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) July 11, 2021
Twenty-one percent against Trump among an activist cohort that otherwise worships the former president is a decent showing by a guy who’s been on the national radar for only around a year, made more impressive by the fact that every other Republican contender on the ballot was a nonfactor. Check out how thoroughly DeSantis dominated when CPAC polled a 2024 race without Trump:
CPAC straw poll once again has FL Gov Ron DeSantis as the favorite among conservative attendees here if Trump doesn’t run in 2024.
Don Jr 4%
Rand Paul 2%
Tucker Carlson 2%
Haley, Carson, Pence, Abbott, Hawley, Ivanka 1%
— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) July 11, 2021
Mike Pence at one percent. Hoo boy.
The result above should send shivers down the spine of every populist candidate who’s hoping to make the MAGA vote the core of their base in the 2024 primaries. Strange things can happen in three years; DeSantis could falter or, catastrophically, could lose his reelection bid for governor, ending his national prospects. But if you were betting, you’d have better odds right now that DeSantis wins comfortably than that he’s upset by a Democrat. And if that happens, with the governor showing he’s capable of turning a swing state into a red stronghold, that’s when I think we’ll see the needle move appreciably in the “Trump or DeSantis?” contest. In a vacuum, MAGA fans would doubtless prefer Trump as president than DeSantis. But the stronger the case becomes that DeSantis would stand a greater chance of winning a national election than Trump, the more some populists will begin to prefer the new guy as nominee, however bittersweetly.
Stephen “redsteeze” Miller calls DeSantis the “great right hope,” a label borne out by yesterday’s straw-poll results. All the non-MAGA Republicans had better be rooting for him, Miller writes, because DeSantis is the only person capable even hypothetically of sparing us from a third Trump candidacy:
[T]he right understands who DeSantis is and what he represents right now: hope. Not hope for the country in a generic, pliable Shepard Fairey-poster sort of way, but hope for a political right that finds itself secretly, and not so secretly, eager to move on from Donald Trump and the 2020 election. Forever…
As of now DeSantis is the only name mentioned as a future replacement for Trump. He tacks close or higher than Trump in casual polling, his name is the first that comes up, even among the Trumpist base, as a preferred candidate. This is a burden no politician should be saddled with. The country and the GOP is one Ron DeSantis scandal away from returning to Trump’s awkward embrace in 2024. The national media knows this — which explains the feverish attempts to elevate every charlatan with a story or half-rumor to tell about his state and his governorship. Should DeSantis falter, there is no second option other than Trump.
This is an uncomfortable truth the GOP must confront. It’s also why they cannot fully move on from Trump’s one-term presidency no matter how desperately they want to. Trump himself is not going anywhere.
As if to prove Miller’s point, Trump spoke yesterday at CPAC and repeated enough of his old claims about election-rigging that Fox News felt obliged to post a disclaimer onscreen while airing the speech, not wanting to make its legal position against Dominion any weaker. Not to belabor a point from last week, but it’s hard to imagine DeSantis challenging Trump in a primary even if his polling continues to improve. We could reach a point where the party is split 60/40 in favor of DeSantis between the two of them and I think the governor would still be leery of getting in, not because he’d think he couldn’t win but because he’d fear his victory would be pyrrhic. Trump wouldn’t just be ungracious in defeat, he’d cry “fraud” as usual. Some percentage of his voters would conclude that they could never support a “cheater” like DeSantis in a general election. And so DeSantis would face the Democrats in the fall at a disadvantage, maybe a fatal one.
The only way he gets the nomination and has a united Republican base behind him is if Trump stands aside and doesn’t run. Question, though: Does DeSantis’s improving polling make that more or less likely to happen? One can imagine that the better his numbers are, the more reluctant Trump would be to face him in a primary, not wanting to risk the humiliation of seeing “his” voters switch to the younger man in a head-to-head fight. But one can also imagine Trump wanting to retire on his own terms, without any public perception that he’s declining to run because he fears losing to DeSantis. It may be that the easier it is for him to claim that he would have won the nomination a third time if he had run again, the less he’ll feel he has to prove by actually doing it.
I’ll leave you with this soundbite from yesterday’s speech, a case of Trump “kidding on the square” by describing how he planned to spin the straw poll results depending on what the outcome was. (His view on what to about unfavorable polling has been consistent through the years.) The audience laughs but his point perfectly describes how he’s spun the election. And how he was spinning it even before anyone voted: As far back as last August, he was priming Republicans to disbelieve a bad outcome by telling crowds, “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” He’s constitutionally incapable of admitting when he’s been beaten fair and square, as I’m sure Ron DeSantis understands. And that’s destined to influence his 2024 decision.
Sources: HotAir: Who’s the big winner of the CPAC 2024 straw poll, Trump or DeSantis?