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Is the Republican Primary Already Over?

Ignoring Donald Trump has essentially been Ron DeSantis’s strategy over the past two years while angling for a ’24 presidential run—but a well-placed G.O.P. comms official fully disagreed the approach, calling it “consultant stuff that sends all the wrong signals.”
At the moment, DeSantis is exhibiting a not-my-problem approach to the Trump-Bragg ordeal. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
March 22, 2023

Last August, as F.B.I. agents hauled boxes of classified documents out of Mar-a-Lago, I surveyed a few Republican and MAGA operatives about how this latest legal woe might impact Donald Trump’s political future. For a brief moment, the former president’s opponents entertained the notion that surely this would be the scandal that broke his hold over the Republican Party. Wasn’t Trump actively endangering national security by leaving sensitive nuclear secrets in his desk? 

But Trump’s allies were almost giddy about the optics, correctly recognizing the F.B.I. raid as an opportunity to galvanize the base, raise more money, and temporarily paralyze the 2024 field. “Nobody is worried,” one G.O.P. insider told me at the time, relaying the sentiment around Mar-a-Lago. And worry they did not: Days after an underwhelming midterm performance in which Trump’s highest-profile endorsees crashed and burned, and Ron DeSantis cruised to a resounding re-election victory, Trump announced that he was running for president. Eight months later, Trump has only gained strength in G.O.P. polls, with DeSantis and Nikki Haley, his two closest rivals, trailing by double digits. (Mike Pence, Glenn Youngkin, Mike Pompeo, Tim Scott, and other would-be challengers barely register.)