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7 Reasons Ron DeSantis’ Campaign Was Dead on Arrival

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Had ) Trump and set the 2024 campaign narrative (i.e., “what this election’s about”) to focus on electability, he might have preemptively framed Trump’s first indictment as a massive blow. For example, DeSantis might have spent months warning that an indictment was coming, and that said indictment would doom Trump’s chances against Biden in November. Instead, he did something even worse.

5. He provided cover for Trump.

It’s not just that DeSantis failed to effectively attack Trump, it’s that he defended Trump from what might have been serious developments. By helping Trump suggest that the indictments were politically motivated and later saying he would pardon the former president, DeSantis contributed to a permission structure whereby Republican voters had every reason to remain loyal to Trump, rather than moving on from him.

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis at Southwest Florida International Airport October 16, 2020, in Fort Myers, Florida.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

6. He didn’t shore-up non-Trump Republican voters first.

Rather than locking down a coalition of gettable non-Trump Republicans and then attempting to woo soft Trump voters who were ready to move on, DeSantis first attempted to court hard-core Trumpy voters. It’s hard to imagine how or why he thought this would work. On top of that, he took stances (such as calling Russia’s Ukraine invasion a “territorial dispute”) that repelled formerly gettable Reagan Republicans (providing a rationale for Nikki Haley’s candidacy).

7. He bought into the ‘very online’ hype.

Once it became apparent that rank-in-file Trump voters weren’t going for Trump Lite, DeSantis still refused to focus on consolidating the rest of the GOP electorate.

Instead of worrying about the kind of normie voter who might caucus in Des Moines, he focused on the young and highly-educated, very online voters (a priority that was reflected in his staff hiring decisions). DeSantis had swerved toward Edgelord territory. This led to weird decisions, such as hosting his official campaign announcement on Twitter Spaces, a move that turned disastrous when the feed crashed for the first 20 minutes (and that was only one of many technical calamities).

Building on his Florida experience (see listicle number 1), he also spent much of his early presidential campaign focused on culture war issues like attacking “wokism,” pushing vaccine skepticism and banning local COVID-19 mask requirements, or going after Disney and calling people “groomers.”

In some ways, DeSantis’ failure to catch fire was predictable. I predicted it in May—months before he officially launched his campaign. But I don’t believe in predestination in politics. The world is dynamic. If DeSantis had started off in Jan. 2023 with the right strategy and message, things might have turned out different.

While one could argue that DeSantis’ awkwardness or introversion doomed him—or that the indictments made Trump unbeatable by causing Republicans to circle the wagons around him—I believe that a radically different type of campaign strategy might have worked.

At the end of the day, it seems likely that DeSantis’ ego blinded him to some of the realities, stopping him from learning some of the lessons of 2016, and preventing him from doing the things that might have made him the GOP nominee in 2024.

In this regard, Ron DeSantis is a cautionary tale.

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