And then there were two.
Ron DeSantis’s presidential bid ended unceremoniously on Sunday with a Twitter video marking the end of a campaign that had begun on the same platform. It was a ho-hum but not necessarily surprising end for a candidate who had placed a distant second in a state where he has thrown everything he had against the frontrunner and who faced a difficult primary contest calendar going ahead.
Now, the race is down to Nikki Haley and Donald Trump, the latter of whom remains the far-and-away favourite to win it all after a decisive victory in the Iowa caucuses; the former president won 51 per cent of the vote. The 2024 GOP primary has, so far, played out exactly as the polls predicted it would.
So what does Sunday’s development mean for Mr DeSantis’s two rivals for the nomination?
Mr Trump was once the favourite for the nomination. After today, this could easily become a coronation.
In his video remarks announcing his decision on Sunday, Mr DeSantis made two things clear: one, that he believes the primary is over, and two, that he sees himself firmly aligned with the greater hard-right faction of the GOP represented by Donald Trump and Trumpism. Nikki Haley, he reasons, represent’s the party’s old guard — a decaying establishment he sees as on its last legs.
That latter point is the key news here; Ron DeSantis was not running as an alternative to Donald Trump because he believed that he could change the direction of the GOP — or necessarily even wanted to. The Florida governor was running to be Mr Trump’s successor in a movement that has been ascendant within the GOP since the days of Tea Party Republicans and which saw its power at its zenith during the rise of Mr Trump and his one term in office. If you follow Mr DeSantis’s line of thinking, that trend is going nowhere any time soon, and resisting it makes little sense.
Which leaves us with Mr Trump, the continued leader of that faction of conservatism and the only one still in the race willing to champion it. Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis, both running to be “Trump without the baggage”, are gone; as such, it remains Mr Trump’s race to win.
Ms Haley remains in a tough spot. In Iowa, she finished third despite much ado about a last minute surge in her favour. She’s currently on the ground in New Hampshire, continuing a tour of the state with her top surrogate, the state’s Republican governor, as she seeks a surprise rout of Donald Trump in the state.
Does that sound familiar? It should; it’s exactly the same strategy which Ron DeSantis pursued in Iowa. And despite appearances in all 99 of Iowa’s counties, the governor finished roughly 30 points behind the former president.
Simply put, all eyes are on Ms Haley, now. The ex-ambassador and governor needs to prove in New Hampshire that the Republican nominating contest is still that: a contest, and not a coronation. To do that, she needs to be competitive — either by beating Mr Trump or coming, at a minimum, a few percentage points from his total. An Iowa-style blowout will almost certainly sap any chance she has of convincing voters going forward that her campaign has a chance at winning the nomination.
Donald Trump’s campaign drove this point home to reporters on Sunday, in a statement declaring that Ms Haley has two options should she lose in the state: drop out, or get “demolished” in her home state of South Carolina.