When Fox News released a presidential poll last weekend that looked pretty good for Donald Trump, surely he thought his old buddies at the right-wing hype outlet would be all over it.
But after the GOP propagandists didn't give it the play Trump thought it deserved, he slammed both Fox and his chief Republican rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who finished second in the poll.
"FoxNews is promoting Ron DeSanctus so hard and so much that there’s not much time left for Real News," Trump groused the next day on his platform Truth Social. "Reminds me of 2016 when they were pushing 'JEB!' The new Fox Poll, which have always been purposely terrible for me, has 'TRUMP Crushing DeSanctimonious,' but they barely show it. Isn’t there a big, beautiful, Network which wants to do well, and make a fortune besides? FAKE NEWS!"
Trump finished first in the 2024 GOP primary poll at 43%, with DeSantis taking second at 28%, and everyone else in single digits or worse (Nikki Haley 7%, Mike Pence 7%, Greg Abbott 2%, and Liz Cheney 2%).
Trump's throwback to Fox and the fateful miscues of Jeb Bush's 2016 run were a purposeful jab, promoting DeSantis' establishment cred and lumping Fox in with the untrustworthy 'Fake News' media. After all, Fox did call Arizona for Joe Biden in 2020 before any other network—all but dooming his reelection bid on an election night when he had planned to claim victory before the tallies were in. Surely, Trump will never forget that.
A week earlier, Trump similarly hadn't liked Fox's coverage of a modest DeSantis press conference in Staten Island while his own competing event drew "thousands of people" in West Palm Beach, Florida.
"I call FoxNews the RINO Network, and their DOWN BIG Ratings accurately reflect the name," Trump said, hurling the kiss of death epithet of today's GOP, Republicans in Name Only.
Trump's transparently capacious insecurity might also be a moment of political jiu jitsu for him. Because while Trump is smearing DeSantis with the same establishment coverage that Fox gave Jeb!, he's actually the de facto GOP establishment behind the scenes.
In fact, The Washington Post reported last week that Trump's allies are busily working state leaders across the country to ensure the Trump-friendliest possible rules will govern each statewide contest as the Republican primary unfolds next year.
Being able to use one's connections at the state level to prime the primary pump is the definition of establishment. Backroom deals with the party bosses of yesteryear no longer rule the day, but greasing the skids of the governing rules and the delegate selection process can still make a definitive difference for candidates. The Post writes:
Trump advisers say the outreach is less about demanding changes now and more about cultivating relationships for the upcoming months — when they could call for some rule changes in states and try to shape who the delegates are for the convention.
While the Democratic Party has fairly tight rules for delegate selection at the national level, state-level Republican parties have a lot of latitude in determining how the delegate process plays out.
“You can influence the way delegates are selected, whether it’s by primary, caucus or convention,” explained Henry Barbour, a GOP committeeman from Mississippi. “You can affect whether a state party will have winner-take-all or what the criteria that a candidate has to get to win any delegates. There are just advantages to being the most organized campaign.”
So Team Trump's early intervention at the state level, before most candidates have even announced, is a meaningful advantage. Republican state parties must submit their delegate selection plans by Oct. 1.
In the meantime, Trump's digs at DeSantis as the Jeb-stablishment's second bite at the apple appear to be landing.
Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump GOP strategist and host of The Focus Group podcast, recently featured several objections to DeSantis just now starting to pop up with Trump voters in her Republican groups.
"I'm a little concerned from a perspective because he's still establishment," said one man who was a two-time Trump voter.
Another two-time Trump voter framed DeSantis as a "No. 1 supporter" of the Trans Pacific Partnership when he as a member of Congress and tagged him as an "open-borders globalist."
"As I started to learn more about Ron DeSantis and where he really is on the political spectrum and how he's voted in the past—now, I'm not sure I would vote for the man," she said.
That hesitation is a new phenomena in Longwell's Republican focus groups, where Trump voters and others have typically said very positive things about DeSantis even if they had a rather cursory understanding of his political profile.
To be sure, Trump plans to make DeSantis pay for his votes as a Congressman from Florida. It's all part of his playbook.
On Thursday, Trump touted his "Great Poll numbers" against DeSantis by taking a dig at his voting record in the House.
"I guess people are finding out that he wanted to CUT SOCIAL SECURITY & RAISE THE MINIMUM AGE TO AT LEAST 70, at least 4 times. LIKEWISE WITH MEDICARE, WANTED BIG CUTS. HE IS A WHEELCHAIR OVER THE CLIFF KIND OF GUY, JUST LIKE HIS HERO, failed politician Paul Ryan, the FoxNews ratings destroyer who led Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign down the tubes. GLOBALIST’S ALL! WE WANT AMERICA FIRST!!!
Trump's obvious advantage against every GOP challenger, including DeSantis, is the fact that he has a core following that cannot be lured away from him. Whether that ride-or-die Trump group is some 40% of GOP voters, 30% or perhaps even lower remains to be seen.
The downside for Trump is that his growth potential is low. Every Republican who isn't sold yet on voting for him in the '24 primary has their reasons—whether they don't like his style, simply don't think he can win, or actually care about democracy, the rule of law, and the U.S. Constitution. But absolutely everyone knows him and everyone has an opinion about him.
Trump's weakness, however, is a potential strength for DeSantis—28% of GOP voters is likely his floor. Certainly other polls have shown DeSantis fairing better against Trump and even beating him, in some cases. But DeSantis has room to grow.
Still, DeSantis hasn't officially announced his candidacy, and one has to wonder how long he can just keep absorbing Trump's body blows without returning fire.
This week, in particular, was a rough one for the Florida governor. Jeb! was about the last person DeSantis wanted a bear hug from and yet he got one from the former Florida governor last weekend—on Fox News, no less.
Asked if DeSantis should run for the White House, Jeb! downright gushed about him.
“Who better to do it than someone who’s been outside of Washington, who’s governed effectively, who I think has shown that Florida can be a model for the future of our country,” Bush responded.
“He’s been a really effective governor," Bush continued. "He’s young. I think we’re on the verge of a generational change in our politics — kind of hope so. I think it’s time for a more forward-leaning, future-oriented conversation, our politics, as well."
Yikes—that must have set off alarm bells among the DeSantis braintrust. Quick, someone get Jeb! on the horn pronto.
Several days later, Bush clarified in an email to Politico Playbook that he "was praising, not endorsing" DeSantis, because, frankly, what could possibly be worse for someone trying to take on Trump?
DeSantis also got some unwelcome press when videos emerged of a security guard trying to kick Trump supporters out of the parking lot of a Books-A-Million where DeSantis was doing a signing for his new book, The Courage to Be Free: Florida's Blueprint for America's Revival.
There's some question as to whether the video was staged, but DeSantis certainly isn't out there swatting down the accusation, so who knows.
But real or staged, the entire episode makes DeSantis look weak.
So the question of whether DeSantis can actually go toe-to-toe with Trump remains. It's a fair concern, one that that Focus Group's Longwell teased out in tweet on Wednesday:
“If Ron DeSantis announces his 2024 Presidential run and doesn’t meet the hype/gets chewed up by the Trump attack machine, who will the ‘We should probably move on from Trump because he’s not electable’ crowd vote for in the GOP primary?”
Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego has thrown his hat into the ring! Gallego will try to take progressive-turned-bizarre-centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat in 2024. Today on The Brief, Markos and Rep. Gallego talk about the state of the country and his campaign, and what Americans want from the officials they elect to office.