Why It’s Far Too Soon to Say DeSantis Is Done
This combination of choices has helped set up an unusually rapid decline in Mr. DeSantis’s support. After all, the only thing that unifies a hypothetical Trumpism without a Trump coalition is opposition to Mr. Trump. Trump and the prospect of beating him. If you’re not attacking him and you’re losing to him, then you’re not saying or doing the only two things that can hold your supporters together.
The evaporating basis for Mr. DeSantis’s support has played out subtly differently on two different fronts. On the right, conservative voters are open to someone other than Mr. Trump has nonetheless returned to the side of the former president. What kind of conservative wants Trumpism without strength? Toward the center, the many relatively moderate and neoconservative establishment Republicans who yearn for a candidacy opposed to Trumpism, not just to the conduct of the man himself, have withheld crucial support for Mr. DeSantis and flirted with other options, from Chris Christie to Chris Sununu.
But if the DeSantis campaign can revitalize the case for his Trumpism without a Trump candidacy, he might quickly reclaim many of the voters who backed him a few months ago. Indeed, it’s even possible that the current media narrative and low expectations are setting the stage for a DeSantis resurgence.
Imagine what it might feel like if he launched a successful, vigorous attack against Mr. Trump after all these months on defense. What might otherwise have been a routine sparring match would be imbued with far greater significance, unleashing months of pent-up anxiety among his supporters. What if part of the reason he’s announcing his candidacy on Twitter is to mock Truth Social? Silly as it sounds, successfully putting down Mr. Trump might breathe life into his candidacy — and the media loves a comeback story.
One important factor keeping Mr. DeSantis’s path is open that, so far, none of the potential moderate alternatives to him have gained a foothold in the race. If they did, it would deny him the moderate and neoconservative voters who supported the likes of John Kasich and Marco Rubio in the last primary. He would essentially become another Ted Cruz.
But for now, Mr. DeSantis is the only viable non-Trump candidate in town. As long as that’s true, he will have every chance to rebound among the voters who would prefer someone other than Mr. Trump — if there is a market for someone other than Mr. Trump.
In the end, whether there’s sufficient demand for a Trump alternative may be the bigger question than whether Mr. DeSantis can resuscitate his campaign. With Mr. Trump already holding more than 50 percent support in the polls, actually defeating Mr. Trump might require some breaks, like the possibility that his legal challenges are worse than we might assume. It might also require a DeSantis win in Iowa to break Mr. Mr. Trump’s grip on a crucial segment of the party, much as the midterms seemed to temporarily crack. Trump’s base last winter.