The 2024 Republican presidential primary campaign is increasingly looking like a coronation, in no small part thanks to the implosion of Donald Trump’s would-be usurper, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
New polls this week lays bare just how poorly things have gone for the governor. While DeSantis arguably remains the biggest of the minor hurdles Trump needs to clear, his electoral case has effectively collapsed alongside his poll numbers.
The national polls from Fox News and Quinnipiac University show Trump expanding his lead over DeSantis to 47 and 50 points, respectively. Those are Trump’s largest margins to date in high-quality national polls of the race. And thus his lead in the FiveThirtyEight polling average has expanded to a whopping 41 points.
Seven months ago, before DeSantis announced his campaign, he had crawled to within just 2 points of Trump. On top of those two polls came a Washington Post/Monmouth University survey in South Carolina that shows DeSantis in fourth place at 9 percent.
South Carolina was never expected to be a good state for DeSantis, given the presence of two prominent South Carolina Republicans in Sen. Tim Scott (10 percent in the survey) and former governor Nikki Haley (18 percent) in the race. But, since DeSantis launched his campaign, it is the first high-quality early state poll to show him falling into single digits and the first one to show him in fourth place.
Perhaps the bigger lesson from these polls is the utter loss of what was supposed to be the silver bullet for DeSantis: electability. Fresh off a resounding 2022 reelection win in a midterm campaign that was bad for Republicans and worse for Trump, the argument was right there for the making. But it has vanished.
The Fox News poll is one of the first to test not just a Trump versus President Biden matchup or even a DeSantis versus Biden matchup, but to pit all the top Republican candidates against the incumbent president. And of the seven? DeSantis actually fares the worst. Here is how that looks:
Donald Trump +2Nikki Haley +2Mike Pence +1Vivek Ramaswamy +1Chris Christie -1Tim Scott -1Ron DeSantis -3
CNN also recently tested the same seven matchups. While DeSantis was closer to his competition, he performed worse than all except Ramaswamy. These are small margin-of-error differences. But the polls test the same universe of voters and compare how the candidates perform. In both, DeSantis fails to match the performance of his fellow Republicans despite having superior name recognition to all but Trump.
In the Fox News poll, Biden takes 42 to 44 percent of the vote when the alternative is not Trump or DeSantis, but 47 percent when it is DeSantis. A big reason for that? DeSantis has badly marginalized himself. While running hard to the right on issues such as vaccines and by using violent rhetoric, he has clearly and unambiguously alienated middle-of-the-road voters.
The Fox News poll shows just 18 percent of independents have a favorable opinion of DeSantis, while 61 percent have an unfavorable one. While independents often take a dim view of big-name politicians, DeSantis has gone from a minus 16 net favorability among them in December and minus 20 in April to minus 43 today. That minus 43 split is now worse than the ever-polarizing Trump (minus 36). Fewer independents like DeSantis (18 percent) than the lesser-known Ramaswamy (28 percent).
The South Carolina poll offers similar lessons. Among non-Republicans who could vote in the state primary, just 11 percent like DeSantis, while a whopping 67 percent dislike him. (Only Ramaswamy and Trump compare, and neither is as far underwater.) DeSantis also takes just 2 percent of these voters, placing seventh among them.
None of this means DeSantis could not be a player if Trump falters. He is still generally running in second place, and polls of Iowa have been friendlier to him than national polls. It is also not clear what he could have done differently in a party that is generally unconcerned with (or has a warped view of) electability, and in which contenders have to appeal to Trump supporters to have a shot in the primaries.
But what is clear is that DeSantis has done an extremely poor job threading that needle. If the door to a Trump alternative ultimately opens, which is a big if, Republicans no longer have such an obvious and pragmatic alternative.