Ron DeSantis: The next Scott Walker?

Ron DeSantis: The next Scott Walker?


After listening to Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin as he has traveled the country preparing his campaign for president, which officially begins on Monday, admiring voters most often describe him as ‘authentic,’ ‘real’ and ‘approachable,” Mr. Walker’s advisers say.” 

That’s the opening paragraph of a July 2015 New York Times story following Scott Walker’s announcement of a presidential run. The hype for Walker was palpable. Here we had a young governor who had won three gubernatorial elections in the swing state of Wisconsin with tons of momentum seeking the GOP nomination. As a result, Walker was leading in a Monmouth University poll at the time over Donald Trump 22 percent to 13 percent in a crowded field.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the nomination: Walker disappeared among the 17 other candidates seeking to represent the GOP. Within two months of his announcement, he had gone from frontrunner to near the bottom of the polls, capturing just 2 percent support in a September 2015 ABC News/Washington Post poll nationally and 3 percent in a Quinnipiac poll among Iowans. 

Many point to Walker’s careful approach, low-key manner and lackluster debate performances for his downfall. As ABC News noted after one debate:

“Walker’s performance came across to many observers as overly cautious and scripted. Sticking closely to his talking points throughout, Walker spoke quickly when it was his turn and didn’t use up all the time he was allotted. To the extent that Google search data offers insight into how voters responded to candidates’ debate performance, Walker’s name was one of the least searched during the debate.”

Walker would drop out just two months after he launched his campaign. And two years and two months after that, he was defeated in Wisconsin’s 2018 gubernatorial race. 

Fast forward to 2023. Gov. Ron Desantis (R-Fla.) is riding high in the Sunshine State, coming off a 19-point reelection victory in which he captured majorities among women, independent and Hispanic voters.  

The 2024 buzz has started. Polls show DeSantis topping Donald Trump for the GOP nomination despite not having announced his candidacy yet. On policy, there is little that separates Trump and DeSantis, especially on taxes, crime, border security, culture wars and opposing all things woke. 

But DeSantis has proven himself so popular with both Republican donors and the GOP grassroots that Trump has made him one of his chief targets, accusing DeSantis of everything from being an ineffective governor to being a sexual predator.

Until March, DeSantis had almost completely ignored Trump’s barbs. But in recent weeks, the governor has needled Trump by knocking his alleged hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and laughing off Trump’s ineffective nickname “Ron DeSanctimonious.” 

It’s still early, but a recent Fox News poll shows Trump topping DeSantis by 30 points. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Trump has been a boon for the former president both from a fundraising and polling perspective. He’s front and center and ubiquitous on every broadcast cable news network, just like he was in 2015 and 2016, while DeSantis, along with every other current and potential candidate, has disappeared from view. 

Does DeSantis need to start firing back harder? The 2016 race showed that’s how Trump likes it after opponents, from Ted Cruz to Marco Rubio, tried to out-Trump Trump by getting down in the rhetorical mud.

It’s didn’t work…


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