Ron DeSantis' descent continues, unabated by the debate and time on the trail

Ron DeSantis' descent continues, unabated by the debate and time on the trail

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, once seen as Trump's top rival in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, sits in the middle of the pack in two new early-state polls.


Ron DeSantis' long slide continues.

The Florida governor, once seen as the top rival to former President Donald Trump in the 2024 GOP primary, sits in fifth place in New Hampshire, according to a CNN poll released Wednesday. He hasn't visited the state, which holds the nation's second contest, in more than a month.

A Washington Post/Monmouth Survey of South Carolina voters earlier this month found him in only slightly better stead — fourth place — trailing Trump and a pair of home-state candidates, former Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott.

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Earlier this week, he held a fundraiser for his leadership PAC and campaign in oil-rich Midland, Texas, which featured several former Trump donors. He continues fundraising in Texas on Thursday.

“His campaign needs a kick in the ass,” one DeSantis ally said. “It’s dead in the water.”

DeSantis' poor poll-showing in South Carolina and New Hampshire — where he not only trails Trump but is now stuck in the pack with businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — comes after allies had hoped his performance in the first GOP debate last month would arrest a summer swoon. It also comes as his campaign and super PAC have focused attention on Iowa, which holds its caucuses at the start of the primary season on Jan. 15.

But his numbers in Iowa, where Trump campaigned Wednesday, haven't rebounded. Though he remains in second place in the state, he was at 14% in each of the last two independent polls there — with Trump right around the 50% mark.

"He can't win Iowa. He can't win New Hampshire, can't win SC," Trump campaign co-chair Chris LaCivita said in a text message. "The strategy his campaign verbalized last week — of not having to win any state — is coming to fruition."

Further, DeSantis allies have already complained that Nevada may be out of reach, citing a process they say is tainted by a Trump-leaning party.

On Sept. 8, a DeSantis campaign official said the governor needed only "a strong second place" finish in Iowa to springboard to success in New Hampshire, according to Politico.

Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for DeSantis’ campaign, did not respond to a text message seeking comment on Wednesday’s poll.

In New Hampshire, Trump led the field in Wednesday's CNN survey at 39 percent. Ramaswamy came in second at 13 percent, with Haley at 12 percent, Christie at 11 percent and DeSantis at 10 percent.

DeSantis aides and outside supporters have long described the campaign as a "two-man race" between the Florida governor and the former president. But that's clearly not the case in New Hampshire or South Carolina, and DeSantis is far closer to the pack than the front-runner in Iowa.

At the same time, his allies are pointing to next week's debate in California as an opportunity to reverse the trajectory of the campaign. Around the debate, he is expected to hold a flurry of fundraisers in the state — "about half a dozen" according to a person familiar with the campaign strategy.

That person said the debates will increasingly play an outsized role in how DeSantis moves forward.

“The debates are going to be really important," the person said.

But what kind of lift they could bring to impact his early states performance is unclear.

"Ron hasn't been here," said one prominent New Hampshire Republican who supports him. "We'll see after the next debate, after the next time he rolls through, does some events, see if it makes a difference."

The supporter said he hopes DeSantis will "spend a little less time in Iowa and a little more time in New Hampshire."

More broadly, DeSantis' struggles highlight the difficulty anti-Trump Republicans have had in coalescing around a single alternative. After the former president, there is a four-candidate cluster in New Hampshire. Combined, they have more support than Trump. But Ramaswamy, his closest competitor in the state, trails him by a 3-to-1 margin.

Well-funded groups that oppose Trump have been left without a horse to back and little reason to throw good money after bad.

Two major conservative organizations, Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity Action, vowed earlier this year to fight Trump’s ascension to the party mantle again. But so far, they have not delivered the needed firepower to knock him down.

Club for Growth, for example, has spent $6 million so far. Its advertisements, however, urge voters to go in a new direction but praise Trump's past.

To the extent that Trump has opposition among Republican elected officials, most are silent.

DeSantis has not received an endorsement from a member of Congress in more than four months. Haley still has a sole congressional backer, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., who endorsed her at the time of her campaign kickoff in February. Out of 270 Republicans in Congress, 177 — nearly two thirds — have not announced support for a candidate. Trump has the vast majority of those who have made an endorsement.