There’s a growing sense of fatigue among Republican operatives these days, no matter which candidate they support—a frustration with the traditional pageantry of a G.O.P. primary that, despite being an open race this year, doesn’t appear to be competitive at all. Trump, after all, is running as the incumbent, and is polling like one, too.
Nevertheless, when I talk to allies of Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and all the rest, they invariable encourage patience: there’s still months to go before Iowa, they insist, and all they really need is some time to get in front of more voters and make their case. On Wednesday night, of course, Trump’s rivals will get their next big opportunity: A second G.O.P. presidential primary debate without the frontrunner on stage.
The stakes are obviously and particularly high for DeSantis, long considered to be the Republican best positioned to slingshot out of second place if Trump stumbles or drops out. But for the past several months, the momentum hasn’t been in his favor. Whereas rivals like Haley and Ramaswamy have risen in national polling, DeSantis’s vaunted status as a potential Trump-killer has steadily declined amid various messaging and financial missteps. Two public resets have done little to stanch the bleeding of donor support. Close allies are sticking by him, but struggle to articulate a clear plan, beyond charming more Iowa voters, to change the oppressive narrative surrounding his campaign.