Two weeks ago, Ron DeSantis accused the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol of beating a “dead horse.”
“Why weren’t they holding hearings on more energy? Why aren’t they holding hearings on inflation? the governor of Florida complained.
Still, the stream of damaging accusations against former President Donald Trump that have been documented by the panel may well give DeSantis — and other potential Republican contenders — a boost as they consider a White House run in 2024.
Although Trump remains the de facto leader of the GOP, with a huge financial war fund and enduring popular support, there is strong momentum among the party’s major backers in business and finance to field a different candidate in the upcoming election. presidential. There are also signs that voters may do the same.
“There is an element of Trump fatigue within the conservative movement — among conservatives who didn’t love Trump to begin with and then grew to love him, and are now looking for someone new,” said John Feehery, Republican strategist at EFB Advocacy. .
“I think who they’re landing on, in general, is Ron DeSantis.”
Eric Levine, a New York bankruptcy and trial attorney and a frequent donor to Republicans in Congress, said he was “sensing a movement away from Trump, and people were looking for a place to go because they wanted to win.”
“It has gone beyond him just being a jerk, people are horrified by his conduct after the election.”
Trump has repeatedly hinted at a possible run for a second term in 2024, but has so far not made a definitive announcement.
“I know he wants to and plans to do it,” Kellyanne Conway, his former White House communications director, said this week in a podcast hosted by David Axelrod, a former political strategist for Barack Obama.
“He feels like he has unfinished business.”
DeSantis, who has served as Florida’s governor since 2019, has stood out as the most viable alternative to Trump. He has attracted Republican support by adopting the former president’s approach and policies but without the same level of chaos. His rivals include Mike Pence, the former vice president; Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State; and Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the UN; as well as lawmakers Tim Scott of South Carolina and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
“I think people are getting a little bit bolder. I think DeSantis is getting a little bit bolder,” said EFB Advocacy’s Feehery.
“Trump is still king of the hill, and someone is going to have to have the courage to stand up to him. And it seems like right now the guy who has the most guts, who has a real shot, is DeSantis.”
A University of New Hampshire poll released last month showed DeSantis ahead of Trump by two percentage points in a putative presidential matchup in the New England state, which usually holds the first primary contest. It was particularly encouraging for the Florida governor because in October, Trump had a 25 percentage point lead over DeSantis in New Hampshire.
A Yahoo News/YouGov poll this week found Trump leading DeSantis in a national head-to-head contest for the Republican nomination by a 44% to 33% margin. Among registered voters, that gap was smaller, 45 percent to 36 percent.
According to an analysis of swing voters by Impact Social, a social media analytics firm, DeSantis has benefited from a surge in positive sentiment in online posts in recent weeks, while moving down for Trump. .
“For these people, Trump is guilty of something, whether it be insurrection, obstruction of justice and/or corruption, and he should be prosecuted urgently,” according to the analysis, which was conducted between June 15 and 29.
“This is not just about liberals seeking revenge. A good number of these posts are written by exasperated right-wing voters who see January 6 as an embarrassment and want the matter to end.”
DeSantis has not yet declared whether he will run for president, which could put him squarely in Trump’s crosshairs. But his supporters have clearly begun laying the groundwork for a campaign should he intervene.
In May, Lilian Rodriguez-Baz, a Miami attorney, and Ed Rollins, the prominent Republican strategist, created a new political action committee called Ready for Ron to promote it. They perked up when Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, said on Twitter last month that he was leaning toward supporting DeSantis in 2024.
“We’re very excited to see more and more business owners and more and more big names endorsing DeSantis,” said Rodriguez-Baz, who is the PAC’s chief legal counsel.
“The point and goal of our PAC is to build this momentum so that you are persuaded to run when you see how many people want you to be president in 2024,” he said.
Even as a potential battle looms, DeSantis and Trump have been reluctant to attack each other head-on, though there have been signs of friction. Florida’s governor has refused to seek Trump’s endorsement for his re-election campaign, for example.
Rodriguez-Baz said there are only “rumors and whispers” about Trump’s possible candidacy for a second term, while DeSantis had “positioned himself very well as someone who is equipped and capable of carrying out Trump’s America First agenda.” ”.
Among some Republicans in Florida, support for DeSantis’s candidacy is growing.
Armando Ibarra, president of the Miami Young Republicans, endorsed him last week, saying “people really like [him]” because he embodied “the future” and because he was willing to take on big business, even in his clash with Disney over gay rights.
“Many people see that there have been imbalances and excesses in the way some of these companies operate. He’s challenging them on data privacy, on CRTs and Big Tech stuff. He’s challenging cultural monopolies,” Ibarra said.
But some lawmakers in the state capital of Tallahassee are less enthusiastic, believing DeSantis has spent more time nurturing his presidential ambitions than governing.
“He gets on a plane at 9:30 to do a press conference at 10. He will do a Q&A where he will attack [president Joe] Biden. Then he gets back on a plane, does a couple of hours of work, and then does his best to appear on Fox News at night,” one lawmaker said.
There are other questions about DeSantis besides whether he can beat Trump and other rivals among Republican primary voters. Some ask if he has distanced himself enough from the former president or if he is considered too extreme.
In New York, attorney Levine, who has said he will turn his attention to the presidential election in early 2023 after the midterms are over, said Republicans would be “better served” by a candidate who can win over suburban voters in instead of his staunchly pro-Trump base.
While DeSantis wouldn’t be his “first choice,” he’d still enthusiastically support him and believes he’s gaining momentum.
“Is the support for DeSantis real? I think it is,” Levine said.