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For all that went wrong, DeSantis could again emerge viable 2028 option


(The Center Square) – Although 2024 did not turn out to be the year for a successful presidential run by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, he could be formidable candidate in 2028, two analysts predict.

“He will certainly be the front runner on the Republican side,” Kathryn DePalo-Gould, professor of politics at the Florida International University, told The Center Square. “He is going to be governor for two more years. He could then spend two years running for president. He will have learned from mistakes they may have made in 2024.”

DeSantis bowed out of the race on Sunday, less than 48 hours before the New Hampshire primary. His exit left heavily favored former President Donald Trump and his former U.N. ambassador, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, vying for the Republican nomination.

DePalo-Gould believes there is little DeSantis could have done differently in 2024 given the popularity of Trump.

And, the governor’s mark to make was coming against the original. Gregory Koger, professor of political science at the University of Miami, told The Center Square that was a tough hurdle for the governor.

“DeSantis struggled to make a case for why voters should choose him over Trump,” he said. “He could not make a case for himself as being better than Trump without attacking Trump. Voters had no strong reason to prefer DeSantis over the original.”

It was a long way from the midterms of 2022, when DeSantis won reelection in Florida and many observers deemed him the best Trump alternative to the party nationally for this election cycle. It didn’t last. His campaign’s struggles late in 2023 carried into this month. Along the way was shedding of staff, reorganization, and financial hurdles.

The campaign sunk a lot of money into Iowa, only to barely clip Haley for a distant second behind Trump while a snowstorm hammered the Midwest and turnout for the caucuses. By then, there wasn’t a poll anywhere throwing a lifeline to the campaign.

“I don’t think they really did anything wrong,” DePalo-Gould said of the DeSantis campaign. “It was just the Trump factor.”

DeSantis will be helped because he “bowed out gracefully” and endorsed Trump, said DePalo-Gould. The former president immediately said he would retire a derogatory name he’d called his fellow Floridian.

“Trump saying wonderful glowing things about DeSantis, I think, has helped the governor in whatever he wants to do next,” the professor said.

When DeSantis and other GOP challengers to Trump were making their decisions about the 2024 candidacies, it was not clear what effect Trump’s legal troubles, including criminal indictments, would have on his bid for a second term in the White House, DePalo-Gould said.

“Trump was a big question mark,” she said. “If you needed someone who was there in the wings, ready to step up, here was DeSantis. After DeSantis’ big reelection victory, that was a smart option.”

But it turned out that Trump’s legal troubles only increased his popularity with Republican voters, the professor said.

“He’s one of those candidates that whatever you throw at him, his poll numbers are going to jump up. I don’t know that anybody could have anticipated that.”

Koger agreed.

And, the battle DeSantis waged against Disney may also have hurt him with pro-business Republicans, Koger said.

“I can imagine,” he said, “how a lot of Republicans – business Republicans, free-enterprise Republicans would say, ‘That’s not what I want.’”

Koger also believes that DeSantis can be a strong candidate in 2028, when Trump will not be on the ballot.

“Even if one is not impressed by the campaign he ran in 2024, still there is a lot to be said for past experience running for president,” said Koger. “He’ll have a lot to start with. He will have name recognition, contacts in Iowa. He’ll know many potential donors. He will have a leg up in that sense.”

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