This year’s CPAC will be a showdown between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis

This year’s CPAC will be a showdown between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis meeting with Donald Trump in the White House Oval office on April 28, 2020, Wikimedia Commons

Former President Donald Trump is still the de facto leader of the Republican Party, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) is giving him a run for his money.

This Sunday, right-wing voters, activists, and politicos will gather in Orlando for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference where a straw poll of potential 2024 presidential candidates will be conducted.

DeSantis owes his rising stardom in large part to Trump, who endorsed his 2018 run for governor.

Now, the relationship between the two men – who were allies during Trump’s presidency – has evolved into a rivalry for the soul of the GOP, although they publicly deny that there is any tangible rift.

“It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, DeSantis ran in the most pro-Trump circles available to a member of Congress. When DeSantis was a member of Congress from 2013 to 2018, representing the eastern Florida coast, he was part of the hard-right and very pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus (as was Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows). When DeSantis ran for governor in 2018, he wasn’t the front-runner at first. But he was running in a year when a Trump endorsement could put a Republican candidate in the lead. So he appealed to Trump by frequenting Fox News. DeSantis ran ads showing him reading to his children about Trump’s escapades and even got them to chant “build the wall” in one ad. It all paid off. He got Trump’s endorsement,” The New Republic’s Daniel Strauss wrote on Tuesday. “DeSantis then won the nomination and squeaked by Democrat Andrew Gillum in the general election.”

And while it is widely expected that Trump will come out on top, insiders believe that DeSantis will emerge as Trump’s most formidable challenger.

“I’m sure Trump will be received as a hero. The question will be: Are there any cracks in that armor?” Republican strategist Mike DuHaime told Reuters on Tuesday.

Indeed there are. Trump’s unflappable fixation on non-existent fraud in the 2020 election is becoming a drag on the party’s chances of retaking the United States Senate in the November midterms. If Trump decides to run for the White House again in 2024, he has to put forth a vision for the future instead of only rehashing the past.

Nevertheless, Trump remains the party’s standard-bearer and kingmaker. Republican voters adore him, and he is still the force to beat in the next presidential cycle’s primaries.

“Every poll of Republican primary voters or straw poll of activists further pits the two Republicans against each other. And the number of contests and measurements before presidential campaign season begins is small. So for both DeSantis and Trump, when they go to CPAC, the straw poll’s outcome will drive the narrative of their own friction,” noted Strauss.

“I’m going to make a bold prediction for you: Trump wins overwhelmingly. DeSantis comes in second. The question would be how overwhelmingly, and if there will be chatter or noise that comes into play during the convention,” Florida-based Republican strategist Brett Doster predicted to The New Republic.

“If Trump doesn’t run, DeSantis will be top tier, possibly winning the nomination,” he added. “People just love the guy. But DeSantis doesn’t want a food fight with Trump. Nobody wants a food fight with Trump. If he runs again, he’s going to win” the nomination.

“I think if DeSantis wins, it’s a shock wave for Trump, and I think DeSantis would be ahead of schedule,” an aide to Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) remarked to Strauss. He noted, however, that “nobody wants to be the front-runner this far out. A lot of things can change.”

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