The Trump-DeSantis Rivalry Just Got Real

In an interview published this week, Donald Trump told The New Yorker that if he and Ron DeSantis run for president in 2024, he’d defeat him in a GOP primary.

“I don’t know if Ron is running, and I don’t ask him,” Trump said. “It’s his prerogative. I think I would win.”

Trump has expressed confidence in his ability to defeat DeSantis and any other Republican who might run in 2024. “If I faced [DeSantis], I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else,” he said back in October.

At the time, it was undoubtedly true. “Unless there’s something coming out of left field I don’t see coming, it’s his nomination if he wants it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in December. “The Republican base appreciated him. We don’t appreciate all the things he does sometimes. But from a policy point of view, he was the most successful president from a conservative’s point of view since Ronald Reagan.”

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For sure, polls all showed Trump to be the runaway favorite for the GOP nomination and well-positioned to defeat Biden or whoever the Democrats ultimately run in 2024. The GOP nomination and the presidency were his to lose.

But lately, polls show Trump might be starting to lose the hypothetical nomination to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Last month, DeSantis edged Trump in the 2024 straw poll at the Wisconsin GOP convention, 38% to 32%, and he beat Trump in the multiple-choice 2024 straw poll at the Western Conservative Summit. DeSantis and Trump were the far-away favorites of GOP voters, with DeSantis getting 74% of the vote and Trump getting 71%. The next closest candidate was Sen. Ted Cruz, with 43%.

But the latest poll might be the most concerning for Trump. A new survey out of New Hampshire has DeSantis edging out Trump 39% to 37% among likely GOP primary voters. While DeSantis’s edge was within the poll’s margin of error, it nevertheless shows that Trump’s no longer the runaway favorite and that he has real competition from DeSantis that may indeed threaten his chances of being the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee. Moreover, this poll is more significant than the other surveys because New Hampshire holds the first primary of the presidential campaign season and can make or break campaigns. And Trump’s standing is not likely to improve.

“The survey suggests support among New Hampshire Republicans for DeSantis is surging,” writes Paul Steinhauser of Fox News. “Trump held a 43%-18% advantage in support of DeSantis the last time the UNH Survey Center asked a 2024 GOP presidential nomination preference question, in October of last year. Trump topped DeSantis 47%-19% in UNH’s survey last July.”

The poll also suggested that DeSantis might perform better in the general election than Trump. The poll found that in a hypothetical 2024 matchup, Biden would defeat Trump 50%-43% in the Granite State, while DeSantis has a slight edge over Biden, beating him 47%-46%. New Hampshire’s four electoral votes might be critical to winning the White House in a close election.

Related: Trump or DeSantis?

What has happened over the past few months that has caused DeSantis’s stock to rise and Trump’s to go down? I suspect voters are seeing DeSantis as the safer alternative to Trump in 2024. Whether or not his supporters want to admit it, Trump’s blunt style and undisciplined nature were often problematic for him. Was he effective? Yes. And we should be grateful for everything he did to make our country great again after eight years of Obama. But DeSantis has shown himself to be a more politically savvy and disciplined version of Trump. One might say he’s Trump without the baggage. He’s made Florida redder after barely winning his election without ever shying away from a big fight. DeSantis went head-to-head with the woke left and won. He’s also managed to grow the party and not burn bridges in the process.

As these recent polls show, Trump may be the candidate GOP voters want in 2024, but DeSantis might be the candidate they need.

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