Ron DeSantis as recently as a year ago was considered the most compelling contender for the presidency.
His campaign has failed to meet that hype, and his debate strategy isn't helping.
The only times Ron DeSantis is seen on American television is debating people who won't be president.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was the stuff of Democrat's nightmares as recently as a year ago.
The figure he cut was fearsome: a pugnacious governor who turned a perennially purple peninsula into a ruby-red Republican bastion, who would use his office, the legislature, and the courts to bully the left, a competent version of Donald Trump who could seize the presidency and accomplish the policies that the frequently distracted and non-detail oriented Trump failed to pull off.
Then DeSantis started running for president. Since then, Democrats haven't had a lot of reasons to worry about him. He's working much harder than Trump is but for vanishingly smaller gains among the electorate.
DeSantis completely misplayed the debates
The debates have been instructive. Trump saw that there was far more downside for him in attending, so he skipped them, and counter-programmed them. DeSantis, rather than do the same and agree with Trump that the debates were beneath him, instead chose to engage.
Rather than seizing the airtime as an opportunity to reveal his talent, instead the debates have seen the governor align his campaign with the minor leagues, the gadflys and guys trying to hawk a couple books rather than any actual contenders in this election.
Even when he's not debating other Republicans, he's situated himself firmly in the developmental league of national politics, sparring with Gov. Gavin Newsom on Fox.
"There's one thing, in closing, that we have in common, is neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024," Newsom taunted.
And now, he's pretty much out of time.
DeSantis needed a win tonight
DeSantis is in an unenviable position in the primary.
In front of him, Trump. The party standard-bearer. The former president. Trump makes it look easy. He has barely had to hit the campaign trail or spend money to hold on to his sky-high numbers among Republicans. His earned media alone keeps him in the headlines. DeSantis must bleed money and beg donors for help, all so that he can maintain his position of being behind by only forty-five points. Just to keep up, DeSantis must do everything Trump does, but with backers, and in heels.
Behind him in the polls and beside him on the stage, everyone else in this race is having a grand time. Former Ambassador Nikki Haley is the newest shiny object the Never Trump donor class is envisioning as their champion. Vivek Ramaswamy's endgame has always been enigmatic, but national name recognition and book sales ain't nothing. Chris Christie gets to be rude to an obnoxious New Yorker on national television, essentially living the dream of any New Jersey resident.
DeSantis, though, was a contender. This really could have been his year. Instead of blasting broadsides as the party's frontrunner, he's instead cutting it up on NewsNation with the other also-rans.
During Wednesday night's NewsNation debate, co-moderator Megyn Kelly cut straight to the case, beginning the debate by pointing out Haley's rise in recent polls and Trump's current dominance.
"The voters actually make these decisions, not pundits or pollsters. I'm sick of hearing about these polls," a wide-eyed DeSantis told Kelly.
Fireworks in Thursday night's debate came mostly from former Gov. Chris Christie, who took on Trump Republicans and gleefully deemed Ramaswamy "the most obnoxious blowhard in America."
Christie didn't spare DeSantis, either. The former New Jersey governor pushed DeSantis harder on getting straight answers — beyond talking points and spin characteristic of these debates — than the moderators.
A notable moment was when Christie demanded that DeSantis answer whether or not Trump, at age 77, was "fit" to serve.
DeSantis said that he, himself, was more fit, but demured on ever giving a straight answer — even after the moderators also pushed him on the point.
The next opportunity he'll have to face a national audience will be just before Iowa. Even though the debate roster has dwindled to four, on Wednesday DeSantis showed he was unable to demonstrate the magnetism and telegenic abilities America demands from its leadership.
While DeSantis was debating on a network largely carried by Fubo and Sling TV, Trump was hosting a large fundraiser in Hallandale Beach, Florida. It just provokes the question, what exactly is Ron DeSantis doing here?
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