Ever since he grudgingly departed the White House on the morning of January 20, two weeks after a chaotic effort to remain in power, the Republican establishment has been awaiting clarity on the issue that will define the future of the party: Will Donald Trump run again? The question is, of course, especially zero-sum for Ron DeSantis, the ludicrously well-funded, culture-warring Florida governor who has been preparing to swipe Trump’s mantle if the former president bows out. Instead, it appears he’ll be confronted with a far more vexing conundrum: whether to challenge Trump, himself.
Indeed, it looks like that will be the political calculus facing DeSantis after Trump gave his strongest indication yet that he’ll seek the presidency in 2024. “I would say my big decision will be whether I go before or after,” he told New York’s Olivia Nuzzi last week, teasing the possibility of an announcement before the November midterms—an announcement that would surely drain media attention from crucial down-ballot races and potentially threaten the G.O.P.’s odds of taking back the Senate in addition to the House. But Trump seems preoccupied with freezing the presidential field rather than giving Republicans their greatest chance of success. “I think a lot of people would not even run if I did that because, if you look at the polls, they don’t even register,” he told Nuzzi, referring to the handful of rumored ‘24 aspirants who have been carefully taking the temperature of donors. He went on to incorrectly cite a poll that he claimed showed him beating DeSantis by 48 points.
Trump, in fact, leads DeSantis by 16 to 40 points, depending on the poll, but the gap between them may be closing, including in key battleground states: A new University of New Hampshire poll finds DeSantis in a statistical tie with Trump, as does a poll commissioned by The Detroit Times in Michigan. A much-ballyhooed poll from the New York Times found that half of G.O.P. voters would rather have someone else run.