How a Trump indictment could doom Ron DeSantis as a presidential candidate
Although Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has not made any type of official announcement, he appears to be gearing up for a presidential run. Some polls have showed former President Donald Trump trailing DeSantis in a hypothetical battle for the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination; other polls have showed Trump in the lead. And a pattern that appears to be emerging is one in which Trump moves ahead of DeSantis in polls whenever talk of Trump possibly facing a criminal indictment heats up.
Trump predicted that on Tuesday, March 21, he would be arrested because of an indictment by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Jr. in connection with alleged honey money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels. The former president was not arrested that day, and as of Wednesday morning, March 22, Bragg hasn't indicted him on any charges. But Bragg's investigation continues — as do separate Trump-related investigations being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and special counsel Jack Smith at the federal level and Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis at the state level.
Trump's claims that he is being persecuted by Bragg and other prosecutors appear to be working with MAGA voters. A Morning Consult poll released on March 21 found DeSantis trailing Trump by 28 percent in a hypothetical 2024 GOP presidential lineup. The only Republicans in that poll who have formally entered the race are Trump and Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (UN) and ex-governor of South Carolina. Morning Consult found that only 3 percent of GOP voters would prefer Haley as the nominee.
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DeSantis, in response to a possible Trump prosecution from Bragg, has attempted a balancing act by attacking Bragg as a partisan Democrat while implying that he, the two-term Florida governor, would fare better than Trump in a general election. DeSantis accused Bragg of "pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office," but he also reminded voters of Trump's political baggage when he told television host Piers Morgan, "I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I can't speak to that. Well, there's a lot of speculation about what the underlying conduct is. That is purported to be it, and the reality is: that's just outside my wheelhouse. I mean, that's just not something that I can speak to."
Morgan said of DeSantis’ comments, "The message was clear: I'm nothing like Trump when it comes to sleazy behavior."
The Guardian's Martin Pengelly, in an article published on March 22, explains, "Donald Trump may be in legal trouble over his alleged weakness for vice, but his predicament is increasingly placing Ron DeSantis — his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination — in a political vise. The Florida governor must join Republican attacks on Alvin Bragg, the Democratic Manhattan district attorney whose indictment of Trump over a hush money payment to a porn star is reportedly imminent, while trying not to lose ground in a primary he has not formally entered."
Pengelly adds, "DeSantis has floated criticism of Trump over the hush money payment — and indeed did so again on Tuesday, (March 21) in an interview with Fox Nation. The same day, however, a new (Morning Consult) poll showed how Trump, who is also fundraising off his legal peril, has tightened his grip on the primary race."
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DeSantis' enthusiastic supporters on the right include firebrand author Ann Coulter, the Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro and Fox News' Rupert Murdoch, all of whom believe that he would perform much better than Trump as a presidential nominee in a general election. To them, DeSantis is the GOP's best offramp from Trump but still has an aggressive MAGA agenda.
But The Lincoln Project's Rick Wilson, a Never Trump conservative and former Republican strategist, is not bullish on DeSantis as a 2024 presidential candidate. Wilson firmly believes that Trump, not Florida's governor, will win his party's 2024 presidential nomination. And when he appeared on MSNBC on March 21, Wilson emphasized that Trump still has a stranglehold on the GOP that would only be strengthened by a criminal indictment.
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