The front-runners on the Republican side are already widely recognized two years out from the next presidential election.
At this early stage, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former President Trump are the only two candidates.
On Tuesday, Trump kicked off his 2024 campaign at Mar-a-Lago. He wants to become the first president to serve nonconsecutive terms since Grover Cleveland and seek revenge for his loss in 2020.
On election day, DeSantis overwhelmingly defeated Charlie Crist, a Democrat, by roughly 20 points in his race for reelection. The outcome conveyed a strong message about his likelihood of being elected in 2024.
There is a clear distinction between the two. DeSantis has not yet declared his intention to run for president.
If so, he would undoubtedly be Trump’s most significant adversary.
How do Trump and DeSantis compare on important issues?
For months, rumors about a Trump-DeSantis race have been escalating.
Prior to the midterm elections, the former president frequently held a significant advantage among Republican voters in polls.
The only time this trend wasn’t followed was when DeSantis narrowly defeated Trump in a poll of probable New Hampshire Republican primary voters back in June.
Everything has altered as a result of the midterms, at least temporarily.
After Trump’s disappointing midterm results, DeSantis has surpassed him in multiple surveys.
Several of the former president’s well-known supporters lost. Several party leaders, like former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, have claimed Trump is damaging the party’s reputation.
In some polls that the conservative Club for Growth commissioned in early primary states, the popularity shift from Trump to DeSantis was extremely pronounced.
A poll conducted in Iowa showed DeSantis leading Trump by 11 points, a significant improvement over a survey conducted in August when the Florida governor trailed Trump by 15 points.
DeSantis was in the lead by almost 15 points in the most recent New Hampshire poll, despite the fact that the two candidates were deadlocked in August.
National polling indicates a similar trend.
According to a recent Economist-YouGov poll, DeSantis would be the nominee for the Republican Party if given the choice, garnering 46% of Republican voters versus Trump’s 39%.
The Economist poll also revealed Trump’s fatal flaw: the overwhelming number of opponents.
When asked if they had a good or unfavorable opinion of different politicians, survey participants for both Trump and DeSantis scored exactly the same percentage of Americans with a favorable opinion: 41%. But although only 37% of respondents had a negative opinion of DeSantis, only 52% had a negative opinion of Trump.
Conservative and Republican voters followed the same trend. Trump had a negative approval rating of 25% among self-described conservatives compared to DeSantis’s 14%.
But Trump is no longer the front-runner just based on polling.
There is just one thing that is certain in the money race: both Trump and DeSantis will have the resources necessary to compete.
The current estimated value of Trump’s war chest is $100 million. DeSantis has almost $90 million to work with after running one of the richest funded governorship campaigns in history.
Instead of running their own campaigns, both men have raised money primarily through political action committees (PACs).
As of mid-September, DeSantis has raised $31.4 million through his campaign directly and an extra $146 million through his state-level PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis, according to OpenSecrets, a website that analyzes political donations.
Until now, the Save America PAC has been Trump’s primary fundraising tool.
Trump is now subject to certain tougher restrictions as a result of his declaration of candidacy, including a contribution ceiling for contributors who contribute directly to his campaign.
Theoretically, campaign-related expenses should come from the campaign account rather than the PAC; nevertheless, in practice, this line can become too blurred for the taste of many ethical watchdogs.
There is one more element to the money fight: the recent public display of hostility toward Trump by certain major GOP donors.
Three major New York billionaires, including Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, metal industry magnate Andy Sabin, and cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, have all publicly opposed Donald Trump, according to an article in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post on Wednesday.
However, Trump’s enormous support from his base makes it likely that he can count on a steady stream of modest gifts, lessening his need on mega-donors.
A contest of this nature would depart significantly from the typical intraparty model, which pits a hardliner versus a moderate. Both Trump and DeSantis support the right-wing populists who are passionate about the culture battle rather than the senile GOP elite.
Trump has never been known for his constancy; prior to entering politics, he supported abortion rights, and even as president, he frequently flipped positions on important matters like North Korea.
Trump referred to Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, as “rocket man” and threatened to “totally destroy” the nation in 2017. Trump would quip that he and Kim “fell in love” after exchanging letters the next year.
For his part, DeSantis is most known across the country for the migrant flights he coordinated to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and for his backing of legislation that limits the teaching of sexuality in schools. A dispute with the Walt Disney Company resulted from the latter topic as well.
DeSantis boasted that Florida was “where woke goes to die” in his victory speech after being re-elected, using language that Trump might have wished he had thought of first.
DeSantis has “the policy aspirations of a conventional conservative Republican, not the cobbled-together agenda that marked the Trump years,” according to conservative writer Jim Geraghty, who made this claim this week in The Washington Post.
But there is very little to distinguish between Trump and DeSantis on the subjects that the Republican primary electorate is most passionate about, including fierce hostility to President Biden and the Democrats, immigration, crime, and the economy.
If they face off in a primary, it will probably come down to who can motivate their supporters more successfully and who can convince the GOP that they can win in 2024.