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Is Ron DeSantis as Strong a Potential Candidate as He Seems?


*Key caveat: in a hypothetical world where Trump doesn’t run.

On paper, DeSantis has rather a lot going for him.

With the primaries over, each parties are shifting their focus to the overall election on Nov. 8.

He has amassed a campaign hoard worthy of Smaug, the dragon in “The Hobbit.” A stocky former college baseball player and officer with the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, he projects the type of strength that plays well in Republican politics. And he emerged from the pandemic bolstered, on the correct no less than, by the perception that he navigated the coronavirus relatively successfully in defiance of experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci.

In polls, DeSantis consistently rates because the second selection of Republican voters, behind Trump but well ahead of any putative rivals. And in focus groups, voters often describe him as “Trump without the bags,” in keeping with Sarah Longwell, a G.O.P. strategist who opposes Trump.

Like Walker, though, DeSantis risks peaking too early. Walker’s operation made a strategic error early on by parking much of its money in a 527 committee, a tax-exempt organization that was barred from certain campaign activities. When the cash dried up in the summertime of 2015, his official campaign had trouble paying for the extensive apparatus it had inbuilt anticipation of higher fund-raising success.

The early infatuation of Republican voters (and pundits!) with shiny objects is a timeworn tradition, too. Remember Marco Rubio, the “Republican savior”? Rand Paul, “essentially the most interesting man in politics”? Rick Perry, the recent stuff of the early 2012 hustings? And it stays to be seen whether DeSantis, a wood speaker with a popularity for burning through his staff, has the private skills to go the space.

In interviews, Republican strategists and donors said that DeSantis seemed to be in a robust position for 2024. His home in Florida gives him access to a deep-pocketed donor community that Walker lacked, several noted. He’s won allies within the political influencer community on the correct. And his ability to appeal to each the Trump and Mitch McConnell wings of the party affords him room for maneuver in a Republican Party divided between two mutually hostile camps.

But everyone I interviewed emphasized that anything could occur. Several mentioned that they expected Trump to avoid announcing a re-election run so long as possible — freezing the potential G.O.P. field in place and, possibly, crippling any nascent campaign organizations they hope to construct.

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