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November 8, 2023

In Brief: Reynolds Endorsement of DeSantis Matters

While endorsements don’t typically matter, this one could be the exception.

Donald Trump is way out front in the Republican presidential primary, and his lead has only grown in recent months. At this point, it seems it would take a political earthquake for any other Republican to displace the former president. Is the endorsement Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds just gave to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that earthquake? Ben Domenech considers:

Iowa governor Kim Reynolds endorsed Florida governor Ron DeSantis [Monday]. While endorsements don’t typically matter, this one could be the exception — both because of what it says about the Republican Party, and what it says about Donald Trump.

When DeSantis decided to take the plunge into the presidential race, Team Trump has tried to depict him primarily as one of two things. First, they framed him as a fraud — a faux conservative establishment type, a Jeb Bush acolyte beloved by the donor class, a secret neocon with zero charisma. But this wishcasting line of attack largely failed, because only diehard, too-online Trump supporters or people with the memory of a goldfish could really buy this line given DeSantis’s sterling résumé in Florida and his record of battles with Democrats. In fact, most Trump supporters still have DeSantis as their second choice, and most DeSantis supporters have Trump as theirs.

So instead, Team Trump shifted to emphasizing a different message: winnability. They openly compared DeSantis to Scott Walker — a candidate who looked great on paper but failed on the national stage — a frame echoed by the national media. Sure, conservatives, you may have liked his Covid policies, but in reality DeSantis is another too severe Paul Ryan, too fiscally conservative to win; and those battles with Disney, the “don’t say gay” bill, the six-week abortion ban — the media will use all those things to make him toxic. He may be fine for Florida but he’s a national loser. This appeals to Republican voters who want desperately to take back the White House, and has cemented with them the idea that they’re allowed to like DeSantis, they just won’t win with him.

That’s interesting because, Domenech notes, Reynolds said her endorsement of DeSantis is “all about winning.”

“I believe he’s the candidate that can win,” Reynolds said of DeSantis. Of Trump, on the other hand, “I don’t think he can win.”

After delving into predictable response from Trump and his campaign, which Domenech calls “D-list insult comedy” — comedy that totally resonates with a lot of grassroots folks not in the Beltway culture, by the way — he concludes:

None of this indicates that Donald Trump isn’t still the odds-on favorite for the GOP nomination — he obviously is. But the focus on the importance of winning above all else from the DeSantis-Reynolds announcement represents the most important attack they can level against the former president to Republican primary voters. Those New York Times/Siena poll numbers that had Democrats worried all depend on Trump avoiding conviction — and if that doesn’t happen, even if it’s unfair, even if you believe he’s a victim of the system, the numbers change dramatically. Whatever type of Republican primary voter you are, the ones DeSantis needs to pull away from Trump are the ones who don’t want to nominate a loser just because they love him.

Read the whole thing here.

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