Ron DeSantis is set to enter the presidential election in 2024 this week. However, the Florida governor’s campaign for the Republican nomination begins with his poll numbers plummeting and former President Donald Trump as the clear primary front-runner.
Nonetheless, DeSantis remains the GOP’s best option for anti-Trump forces. And a few recent historical instances suggest he has a legitimate shot at becoming his party’s nominee.
Trump has converted what was once a close primary fight into a massive lead over DeSantis. At the conclusion of last year, the former president was around ten points ahead of DeSantis nationally. Trump’s poll numbers were in the low 40s, while DeSantis’ were in the low 30s.
Trump now has a national approval rating of more than 50% among Republican voters. DeSantis’ approval rating has plummeted back into the low 20s. Nobody else is in the double digits.
In early-voting states, DeSantis’ numbers appear to be slightly better. According to University of New Hampshire polls, what was once a DeSantis lead in New Hampshire has now turned into a Trump advantage. In the most recent poll, Trump was up 42% to 22%. In Iowa, little evidence speaks to a similar trendline.
The Road to Recovery
While the figures don’t look good for DeSantis right now, keep in mind that he hasn’t technically entered the race yet. We have no idea what will happen when he goes on the campaign road as a candidate. History shows that there is still time for DeSantis to make a return.
Prior to the 2008 Democratic primary season, Illinois Senator Barack Obama was polling in the low 20s nationally. Hillary Clinton of New York was leading the national polls for the Democratic nomination with about 40% of the vote. During the second half of the year, her lead rose marginally.
Nonetheless, Obama defeated Clinton.
During the same period, Arizona Senator John McCain was polling in the low 20s in early national Republican primary polls. McCain would make a big recovery after dropping back into the mid-tens in the second half of the year.
According to history, someone in DeSantis’ polling position has a one-in-five (20%) probability of obtaining the nomination. In a game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe on your fingers, you have a 1-in-5 chance of selecting your pinky finger.
Trump, of course, has a much better chance of obtaining the Republican nomination. The only other contender who received a share of the primary vote comparable to Trump’s in early national polls but did not become his party’s nominee was Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy in the 1980 cycle. Most contenders polling at or above Trump’s present position (Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000, George W. Bush in 2000, and Hillary Clinton in 2016) easily secured their party selections.
These early poll results are significant in terms of what they reveal about the state of the race. Trump is far ahead of where he was at this point in the 2016 campaign, when he was in the single digits. (However, that cycle pales in comparison to this one: the race’s leader at the time, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, was in the mid-teens nationally.)
How he will win
To beat the odds, DeSantis will most likely need one of two things to happen.
For starters, he must ensure that more of the party establishment does not unite behind Trump. The former president has already received more than four times the number of endorsements from members of Congress and governors than he did during the 2016 primary season.
Trump is unlikely to be stopped if he has the support of his party and is able to dominate press coverage as he has demonstrated.
Remember that every presidential candidate who has received a similar number of endorsements from major elected officials this early in the cycle has gone on to become their party’s nominee. However, most Republican members of Congress and governors have yet to comment. In other words, the party has not yet made a decision.
DeSantis’s second option is to win in Iowa or New Hampshire. That is not enough to win the nomination, but it is most likely required. Obama (Iowa) and McCain (New Hampshire) both won early elections to kickstart their campaigns.
The good news for DeSantis is that he polls higher in those states than he does nationally, despite trailing Trump in each. A victory for DeSantis in either state would demonstrate whether Trump’s lead is stable or shaky.
The bottom line for DeSantis is that he has a good chance of being nominated by his party, but it won’t be easy.