Back in mid-May, when I followed him during his post-announcement New Hampshire debut, Ron DeSantis still evidenced some of the external signs of a candidate on the rise. The governor had already secured the backing of New Hampshire’s then-House majority leader Jason Osborne and about 60 other state lawmakers. He was still riding high from a poll, conducted some four months earlier, showing him with a 12 point lead over Donald Trump, despite the fact that voters knew little about the Florida governor besides his Harvard-Yale-Navy JAG, anti-woke, Covid-is-overblown MAGA street cred.
But in front of those very state reps and the press, DeSantis exposed himself as an awkward robo-candidate with little feel for the realities of presidential politics: he offered encyclopedic treatises about Florida to people in New Hampshire, who didn’t really care. He couldn’t ably pull off the simplest gestures, like asking voters questions in a diner beyond what’s-your-name. Perhaps worst of all, DeSantis had stayed muted about his presidential aspirations in the intervening window between that January poll and his May swing, allowing a furious Trump to define him unfavorably to the electorate.
Republican candidates feel it’s worth investing in New Hampshire because there’s an opportunity to win over a more moderate and open-minded G.O.P. primary voter, who might be persuaded by an electability argument to ditch Trump. And, of course, New Hampshire provides the momentum necessary to make it to South Carolina, where primary voters are feral for Trump.