The expected announcement this week from Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that he is running for president will come as no surprise. While DeSantis won his re-election by 19 points and his accomplishments with the help of a Republican super majority in the state legislature have been impressive, appealing to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — the early primary states — is another matter.
Not only must DeSantis effectively introduce himself in these and other states, he must overcome former President Donald Trump's large lead in the polls. The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows GOP voters favoring Trump 36.1% to just 19.9% for DeSantis.
Writing in The Washington Post, conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru says: "To convince Republican voters that Trump is a loser would thus require getting them to believe that the same argument everyone made (in 2016 that he was unelectable) and saw blow up in their faces is right this time. For many conservatives, Trump's 2016 victory reinforced the idea that "electability" is a ploy used by the media and squishy Republicans to discredit candidates who are willing to fight for them."
If DeSantis can withstand Trump's attacks — pro-Trump PACs are already running ads saying as a congressman DeSantis tried to cut Social Security and Medicare (in fact he proposed, but didn't vote for — raising the retirement age to 70 to help preserve Social Security) — he must convince Trump voters he can finish the job Trump started without the chaos that accompanies the former president.
How to do this? One way would be for DeSantis to follow the example of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. After announcing in 1999 he would run for president, Bush invited experts in the field of foreign and domestic policy to come to Austin and school him in the things he believed he needed to know. This conveyed to voters he was a serious candidate and should not be judged solely as his father's son.
I doubt any credible advisers would do the same for Donald Trump, much less work for him given the chaos surrounding his one term in office. Does anyone except his most ardent supporters think Trump should be left to his own devices without the advice and restraint from experienced advisers?
Second, DeSantis needs to up his game when it comes to communicating with people. I hate to use myself as an example, but I have tried for two years to get an interview with him and have been ignored by his communications office. They appear to be controlling his access to the media, preferring mostly the friendly atmosphere of Fox News. He needs to change that and face the predictable (for a Republican) hostile and biased questions from the national media to show he is more than a fighter (the reason many pro-Trump voters say they support him, regardless of his numerous character flaws). If I am not alone in this complaint, DeSantis has a problem.
Third, DeSantis must figure out a way to respond to Trump's name-calling and other attacks without descending to his level. If he gets in the mud with Trump, he will not come out clean.
Finally, DeSantis must articulate a vision for the future. While Trump continues to wrongly obsess about the last election being "stolen" from him, DeSantis can say we should leave that behind and focus on tomorrow.
While Floridians know him well, the rest of the nation is just being introduced to him. As Will Rogers said, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
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