TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov.
The meetings come at a precarious national moment for DeSantis. He rose quickly through the conservative national ranks by taking a hands-off approach to the Covid-19 pandemic and placing Florida on the vanguard of conservatives’ biggest culture war fights. He has, however, seen his political ascent bogged down in recent weeks as Trump has hit him with at times near-daily attacks, most of which DeSantis did not respond to.
DeSantis’ political team did not respond to a request seeking comment.
A launch in mid-May would help alleviate growing frustrations among potential supporters who are fearful that DeSantis would squander any momentum he built that made him so attractive as a Trump alternative in the first place.
“A good politician knows when their moment is and they seize the opportunity; there’s no question that the door is swinging against DeSantis,” said Dennis Lennox, a Michigan-based Republican strategist who wants to support DeSantis in 2024. “Gov. DeSantis is the only Republican who can beat Trump. He is the only Republican who can beat Joe Biden. But he’s starting to look like a Scott Walker in 2015, Newt Gingrich in 2012 and Fred Thompson in 2008 — maybe even a Chris Christie, who ended up not getting into the race.”
With little response, the Trump attacks have helped redefine DeSantis with Trump’s intense political base, of which DeSantis will have to erode in order to have viability in a 2024 Republican presidential primary. A Morning Consult poll out Tuesday had Trump with a 37 percentage-point lead on DeSantis, his biggest margin to date. That’s a reversal of fortune for DeSantis, who over the past year has generally been competitive with Trump in one-on-one Republican primary polls.
DeSantis has brushed off questions about his 2024 aspirations, often in an awkward fashion, which has amplified the idea he might not be ready for the presidential spotlight.
The most recent was while on an international trade mission in Japan this week. Reporters asked DeSantis about his lagging poll numbers. In a moment that went viral, DeSantis was visibly unnerved by the questions and seemed unable to respond in a way that appeared prepared.
“I’m not a candidate, so we’ll see if and when that changes,” DeSantis said, openly annoyed by the question.
It also comes amid the backdrop of his continued fight with Walt Disney World, one of the state’s largest employers who angered the governor last year by issuing a statement opposed to legislation that aimed to ban the discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms up to third grade. Opponents dubbed the bill “Don’t Say Gay.”
On Wednesday, a DeSantis-appointed board voted to invalidate a Disney-friendly agreement, a move that prompted Walt Disney World to file a federal lawsuit alleging the DeSantis administration has engaged in “a targeted campaign of government relation.”
The vote has flummoxed even some of DeSantis’ closest Republican supporters, who say a focus on things like Walt Disney World are hurting him in the polls and with prospective supporters. Most notably, Trump has racked up more than 50 congressional endorsements, including 11 from Florida’s delegation, to DeSantis’ three.
“Trump is fighting Democrats, DeSantis is fighting a Mouse,” said a member of the Florida GOP’s state executive committee who supports DeSantis running for president. “Members of Congress and voters are choosing the fight they think is more important.”