Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has spent the past couple years carefully casting himself as the Republican successor to Donald Trump. He would be the younger, fresher MAGA stalwart without the baggage, at least in theory.
At some point, however, that meant DeSantis was going to have to go toe-to-toe with Trump, who has handily vanquished virtually every Republican who has tried to directly take him on. But now it's beginning to look as though the only thing DeSantis didn't plan out in advance was the most important—actually confronting Trump. Instead, he’s been ducking and weaving as Trump unloads on him.
It seems a bit of an oversight, particularly since DeSantis' entire scheme has been premised on poaching at least some of Trump's followers.
Polling on the Trump-DeSantis head-to-head has been all over the place, but most of it lately has shown Trump up by some measure. Anyone who has been nominally paying attention has likely noted the reversal from post-midterm polling and earlier this year when DeSantis was sometimes besting Trump.
But the DeSantis salad days appear to be over. Perhaps Republican voters have already forgotten that Trump almost singlehandedly doomed their Senate takeover last cycle—they do tend to like alternative realities. Or maybe Trump's unchallenged broadsides have truly begun to take effect.
Whatever the case, DeSantis' star has started to fall in consecutive polls taken by the same pollster.
A Quinnipiac University poll this week, for instance, put Trump over DeSantis by double digits, 46% - 32%. In February, the same outlet saw a tighter race between the two frontrunners, with Trump leading DeSantis by just 6 points, 42% - 36%.
But Quinnipiac isn’t the only pollster that has found DeSantis slipping. The New York Times' Nate Cohn crunched the numbers from about a dozen outlets over the past several months and found an "unequivocal" trend away from DeSantis.
"Every single one of these polls has shown Mr. DeSantis faring worse than before, and Mr. Trump faring better," Cohn wrote.
The trend line is unmistakable in Cohn's graph averaging the polls. In head-to-heads before Jan. 15, Trump and DeSantis are basically dead even at just under 50%; but after Jan. 15, DeSantis slides to 40% while Trump climbs over 50%. Multi-candidate polling averages show a similar slide for DeSantis and a corresponding uptick for Trump.
For months, outlets conducting focus groups have noted a consistent yearning among Trump voters for an alternative that they believed would be less divisive and better positioned to win back the White House. DeSantis became their go-to candidate of "Trump without the baggage."
But if DeSantis face plants, where do those voters go? Sarah Longwell, host of the The Focus Group podcast, told Daily Kos this week that, if DeSantis fades, roughly half of his supporters in her focus groups say they would back someone else while half say they would revert back to Trump.
If that proves true, it's hard to imagine how Trump—with his built-in 30% cushion—would lose the GOP nomination once a slice of DeSantis-curious voters drift back toward Trump.
Judd Legum is the founder and author of Popular Information, an independent newsletter dedicated to accountability journalism. Judd joins Markos and Kerry to talk about the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against Fox News and the recent revelations of behind-the-scenes deceit practiced by everyone from on-air host Tucker Carlson, to the owner of it all, Rupert Murdoch.