Surprises in the 2024 GOP race: DeSantis flubs rollout, Trump sidesteps legal woes and more

 They’re off: In the Republican presidential race, the top challenger to former President Donald Trump (that would be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis) formally declared his candidacy last week, and one of the longer shots (South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott) jumped in, too. More are likely to follow within the next few weeks.

From DeSantis' technical difficulties to GOP candidates dodging questions on abortion policy, not everything has gone precisely to plan. Here's what you need to know about four surprises in the contest that is just beginning to unfold as Republicans try to take the White House from President Joe Biden.

Washington:What's in Biden and McCarthy's debt ceiling deal − and what's not? Here are 7 takeaways

2024:DeSantis unloads on Trump after 2024 campaign announcement: 'This is a different guy today'

1. Mr. Competent? Not at the launch 

DeSantis has pitched himself as the tech-savvy, data-driven, can-do leader of a new generation − so different from old-style pols that he decided to declare his candidacy for president on Twitter with Elon Musk.

That was the idea. 

Instead, for 25 minutes, the hundreds of thousands of listeners who had gathered on the social media platform known as Spaces heard, well, not much. Silence at first, then a few errant words and some elevator music. "We are kind of melting the servers," co-host David Sacks volunteered at one point.

That assessment could have applied to DeSantis’ glitchy campaign so far. In March, DeSantis was holding Trump’s lead among Republicans in some national polls to single digits. But the former president has now built a lead of 30-some points after hammering DeSantis − aka “DeSanctimonious” − as the Florida governor struggled to introduce himself to a national audience. 

“My Red button is bigger, better, stronger, and is working,” Trump mocked DeSantis’ announcement on Truth Social. On Twitter, the @JoeBiden account invited supporters to donate. “This link works,” the tweet said.

Team DeSantis has tried to turn a stumble into a brag. “Our campaign launch BROKE THE INTERNET,” the campaign declared Saturday, selling T-shirts and coffee mugs with the message. 

Politics:Mexican president knocks DeSantis, says Hispanic voters shouldn't give him 'a single vote'

2. A bigger field

With Trump dominating the national polls − and the costs of challenging him high, as DeSantis has discovered − the GOP field was expected to be smaller than the 10 who participated in the primary debates in January 2016, the last time the nomination was open. 

But a combination of developments is making the race more appealing. Senior Republicans see signs of Trump fatigue, and DeSantis has lost some of his strength. What’s more, many believe Biden can be beaten by the right challenger − someone like them, say.

Six more-or-less major candidates already have announced their bids for the Republican nomination: Trump, DeSantis, Scott, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and business executive Vivek Ramaswamy. 

Former Vice President Mike Pence is expected to join their ranks soon, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that he would decide in the next week or two whether to make a bid. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he is on the verge of a decision. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who was interested in running and then ruled it out and is now considering it again, has aired a presidential-style TV ad. 

Who is likely to benefit from the bigger field?

Maybe Trump. The crowded stage in 2016 helped him prevail.

In her prime:Nikki Haley, in exclusive interview, talks about the 2024 GOP path to victory

'It's not a two-man race':Asa Hutchinson relishes in DeSantis' 'rocky' rollout

3. A new divider

Opposition to abortion has united Republican candidates for decades with only limited political downside. Then the GOP achieved its goal of overturning Roe v. Wade courtesy of a more conservative Supreme Court, three of its justices appointed by Trump.

With that, the new ability to actually restrict abortion has created a newfound conundrum. Abortion rights proved to be a powerful issue for Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterms, less than five months after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, curbing what the GOP had hoped would be a red wave.

Where do the presidential hopefuls now stand? 

Some aren’t sure, and several are eager to dodge the question. 

DeSantis signed a bill to ban abortions in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy, but he did it behind closed doors and hasn’t been touting it in rallies in early primary states. Trump has taken credit for the new Supreme Court majority, but he didn’t mention abortion in his announcement speech last November, and he says decisions about new restrictions should be left to individual states.

Pence has been clear: He wants abortion banned in every state, and he praised a Texas judge’s decision to reverse FDA approval to distribute mifepristone, a pill widely used to induce abortions. 

Scott has stumbled when asked about abortion. In the past, he has supported bills declaring that life begins at conception, which would effectively outlaw all abortions. Now he has dodged questions about what timing he would back for a national ban. Haley has done the same, saying she didn’t want to “get into that game.”

4Trump: Undented 

The surprise on this front is how little has changed so far.

Starting with release of the lewd "Access Hollywood" tape a month before the 2016 election, Trump has been able to withstand controversies that would have unnerved and undermined just about any other candidate. He became the only president to be impeached twice, then tried to overturn the results of a legitimate election when he lost it.

His support: still solid. In a USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll of 600 Trump voters last month, two-thirds say his legal peril doesn’t make a difference to them. In fact, the others say by 7-1 that his indictment in March on charges related to hush money payments in New York makes them more likely to support him, not less.

Still, more than 1 in 4, 27%, say they don’t want him to run for the nomination.

His opponents on the Democratic side and within his own party have long predicted the day would come when he hit a critical mass of controversy. The question is whether his considerable legal troubles might be that moment. In recent months, he has entered unprecedented territory again: criminally indicted for allegations of paying off a porn star and found civilly liable for allegations of sexual abuse and defamation.

Still ahead is a Georgia investigation into his efforts to overturn the election results there, and a federal inquiry into his handling of classified documents when he left the White House and his role in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

No critical mass, at least not yet.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.