DANIEL VAUGHAN: DeSantis Rockets into 2024 GOP Primaries

 May 26, 2023

The speculation is over, and the hypotheticals are no more. The 2024 Republican Primaries have officially kicked off with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' entrance. All the focus is on his showdown with the incumbent, establishment candidate former President Donald Trump, and for a good reason. Ever since descending from Trump Tower to enter the Republican primaries in the summer of 2015, Donald Trump has dominated Republican politics like few before him.

DeSantis is the first true challenge Trump has faced over who will represent the Republican Party in a Presidential election since the 2016 primaries. There's no question Donald Trump is the frontrunner, leading all the national polls, and has a firm grip over Republican voters. But it's also true he's not invincible anymore.

DeSantis' governorship in Florida has been a landslide success. After winning a narrow victory in an otherwise blue-wave election of 2018, DeSantis has romped over every corner of Democratic opposition since winning. His re-election campaign in 2022 turned a nominally purple swing state in Florida into a deeply red Republican stronghold.

DeSantis hits a home run on Twitter Spaces.

The news focused on Twitter's technical difficulties in kicking off the DeSantis launch announcement. And for a good reason, no one wants to see their campaign hit a failure to launch. But after the technical issues got fixed, the numbers were simply staggering. More than 3.7 million people listened to Ron DeSantis make his announcement, and more than nine million listened, if you include mirrored sites.

By contrast, Trump's New Hampshire town hall on CNN drew more than three million viewers on traditional cable television. CNN experienced a drop in ratings after airing Trump's event. Newsweek mocked the network after ratings showed them closing in on CNN.

It's easy to watch something on CNN. In contrast, people had to go to Twitter and seek a Twitter space to listen to the DeSantis announcement. Elon Musk said new account signups "went ballistic" from the DeSantis announcement. He added a jab at mainstream reporters calling the launch a "disaster" and failure" that the DeSantis launch was "massive attention" and the "Top story on Earth today."

Record-breaking fundraising from DeSantis.

But it's more than just the Twitter announcement that was a smashing success. DeSantis announced fundraising figures from the first 24 hours of his campaign and broke records. The previous record was held by Joe Biden, who raised $6.3 million in his first 24 hours after announcing in 2020. DeSantis smashed that record by raising $8.2 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign's launch. It took Donald Trump six weeks to raise a similar figure after he launched his 2024 campaign in what feels like an eternity ago.

In other words, DeSantis is starting his campaign in the strongest position of any Republican candidate in decades. In Presidential campaigns, months are like dog years, so we have a long time until debates and even longer until the first vote gets cast in the Iowa caucuses. But it's hard to find a negative in the DeSantis campaign, aside from the brief Twitter glitch - a technical issue that only happened because DeSantis' audience overwhelmed Twitter's servers.

Even with all that, you can't ignore the national polling. Donald Trump holds the overwhelming lead in national polls. He's the incumbent candidate and leads the Republican Party apparatus and establishment. All these things matter for any campaign. DeSantis is the insurgent outsider challenging mainstream party orthodoxy. The closest parallels to this situation is Obama challenging Clinton in 2008 and Reagan challenging Ford in 1976.

Trump is the establishment, and DeSantis is the challenger.

Obama was successful in 2008, and Reagan set himself up to win in 1980 after winning over many voters in 1976. We'll have to wait and see how DeSantis navigates his challenge to Donald Trump and the Republican establishment. He's off to a rocket start, but the long slog of a campaign waits ahead.

Like Obama, the DeSantis strategy focuses on delivering an early blow in Iowa. Interestingly, Trump's early focus on New Hampshire could be an early acknowledgment he's weak in Iowa and looking to create a backstop in New Hampshire. Trump could rebound after losing Iowa, take New Hampshire, and focus on the push to Nevada. Both candidates will seek to take South Carolina, which will likely determine the winner of the Super Tuesday primaries that follow after South Carolina.

This is all early state-level analysis, which ignores the looming summer debates. Nothing is set in stone yet. But with DeSantis officially announced, look for the GOP to start ironing out the details for debates in the next few weeks.

It's clear that DeSantis has early momentum. If you're a voter looking for something new and fresh, DeSantis offers that across the board. Trump holds the lead, but he's been in the limelight for eight years of Republican politics. He's trying to make that twelve years while promising to defeat Joe Biden, a man he's already lost to in a head-to-head contest.

Both men face challenges in this cycle, which is what will ultimately make this a competitive race. The media's love of Trump over DeSantis will be another aspect of this race that will develop as we move along. As media layoffs continue, the press looks longingly at the Trump years when he boosted ratings. DeSantis' war with Disney isn't as inviting for a media figure.

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