Down and out: What went wrong with Ron DeSantis’ run for the Republican presidential nomination?

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign peaked before it even started.

A year ago, DeSantis was still basking in the glow of his convincing gubernatorial re-election victory in Florida and was the clear alternative to former President Trump in the burgeoning Republican White House race. 

The former president was still facing plenty of criticism by fellow Republicans for contributing to the GOP’s lackluster performance in the 2022 midterms.

Additionally, Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign launch at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, a couple of weeks after the midterms was panned by many pundits.

DeSantis was neck and neck with Trump in a slew of national and early state polls, but as winter turned to spring, the Florida governor came under repeated verbal assault by the former president and his allies.

DeSantis was already bruised by the time he formally launched his campaign, an announcement on social media that was mired with technical difficulties – marking the first of many bad omens for the popular governor.

The governor faced an onslaught of negative ads from the Trump world during late spring into summer.

Veteran New Hampshire-based Republican strategist Michael Dennehy, who served on multiple presidential campaigns, argued that ‘Trump’s barrage of attacks was the beginning of the end of DeSantis.’

DeSantis made headlines over the summer, with a series of campaign staff purges and resets. There were more staff shakeups in the fall, this time at the DeSantis-aligned super PAC Never Back Down, which had taken over many of the traditional duties of a presidential campaign, including grassroots outreach.

Longtime Republican consultant Alex Castellanos, a veteran of half-a-dozen presidential campaigns, noted that DeSantis ‘ran a mechanical campaign and failed on two mechanical fronts.’

‘He wasted bazillions on door knocking when you don’t build a brand going door to door. And two – he’s a mechanical candidate who you don’t want at your door. You need to be a people person to run for public office,’ he argued.

Dennehy agreed, charging that DeSantis ‘just didn’t have the charisma to connect with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.’

Jim Merrilll, another longtime New Hampshire-based Republican strategist and presidential campaign veteran, said that the DeSantis ‘withdrawal is also a reminder of a simple rule – voters need to first like and connect with candidates before they can support them.’

Merrill added that ‘DeSantis is an excellent governor whose national campaign time and again failed to put him in a position to succeed.’

Castellanos stressed that ‘the biggest thing that hurt him is that Republican voters aren’t looking for an alternative to Donald Trump. Donald Trump is their incumbent president.’

Dan Eberhart, a top DeSantis donor, bundler and surrogate, told Fox News Digital that ‘Ron DeSantis ran into a bump and the bump was named Trump.’

‘This wasn’t about money. The campaign insists they had enough money to get to Super Tuesday. I think this was about data and polling and Gov. DeSantis being realistic about whether or not Trump was beatable,’ Eberhart said.

He added: ‘more importantly, I think this was about 2028, and DeSantis doesn’t want a 5% to 8% showing in New Hampshire on his record. Let’s face it, he’s the Republican voters’ de facto second choice, and he’s Trump voters’ second choice, and so he’s decided to get out and govern Florida.’

The latest public opinion polls in New Hampshire indicate Trump holding on to a double-digit lead over Haley with hours to go until Primary Day.

Merrill said that DeSantis’ departure from the race ‘narrows Haley’s margin for error here. Many, if not most, of DeSantis voters are going to migrate over to Trump. And so it’s critical for her to do well in New Hampshire to give her some momentum heading into South Carolina.’

But he added that ‘clearly the consolidation of the field over the last week indicates that there’s increasing pressure to bring the primary process to a close.’

Dennehy was more blunt.

‘I think it puts a nail in her coffin,’ he said of Haley. ‘I don’t think she’ll be able to keep under 50%. And I think there’s a very good chance that Trump hits 60% on Tuesday, which will signal the end of the Haley campaign and virtually seal the deal for the Trump nomination.’

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