Why DeSantis failed

Gov. Ron DeSantis R-FL) was supposed to be the best chance Republicans had of taking out former President Donald Trump.

Instead he ended up dropping out and endorsing Trump before the second Republican nominating contest.


In some ways, it was a rapid fall from grace. In others, it was a slow decline that took place over many months.

There were several factors that led DeSantis to underperform.

GOP midterm elections hangover was short-lived

One of the big drivers of DeSantis’s candidacy was the disappointment for Republicans from the 2022 elections. Many GOP candidates failed to live up to the hype, leading to an even more Democratic Senate and a much narrower than expected Republican majority in the House.

Many of the underachievers were Trump-endorsed candidates. Moreover, President Joe Biden and Democrats branded the Republicans as Trump-aligned MAGA extremists even though the former president was not on the ballot himself.

One major exception was DeSantis. He was reelected in a Ronald Reagan-like landslide. This is despite the fact that Florida has historically been a battleground state, one that went to a runoff in DeSantis’s first election in 2018 and was carried twice by former President Barack Obama. 

This created a lot of optimism for DeSantis. But over time, the idea that Trump hurt Republicans in the midterms and that DeSantis was a major outlier lost steam.

The basic DeSantis campaign strategy failed

A core argument for DeSantis in the 2024 Republican presidential primaries was that he was Trump without the drama. This made a great deal of sense for voters who wanted the Trump agenda, including his populist revision of the GOP brand, but wanted to avoid the 45th president’s baggage.

This ultimately ended up failing on two levels. Trump portrayed DeSantis as a Trump impersonator. This both implied phoniness and raised an important question. Why not just vote for the original article?

At the same time, this Trump lite posture created a lane for former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley to present herself as a clearer anti-Trump option, without going as far as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

It proved difficult to peel away the soft Trump supporters who were key to winning a majority among Republican primary voters while also consolidating the anti-Trump GOP voters. In the end, DeSantis was unable to do either.

Republicans don’t always vote for the most conservative candidate

DeSantis ran to the right of Trump. But if that was necessarily the key to winning the Republican nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) would have won in 2016.

The truth is movement conservatives have won at the end of a competitive Republican primary cycle only twice: Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan then won easily as an incumbent in 1984. 

But most other Republican front-runners ran in between two other rivals for the nomination: George H.W. Bush with Bob Dole and Pat Robertson in 1988; Dole with Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan in 1996; George W. Bush with John McCain and Steve Forbes in 2000;  McCain with Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Fred Thompson in 2008.

Conservatives increasingly held the advantage, with Romney having Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and a slew of others to his right in 2012. But Trump’s populist pitch complicated this in 2016. He now seems poised to win his third straight nomination.

Super PAC failures

There were numerous stories about the flaws of DeSantis’s campaign that were published in the run-up to his withdrawal from the race Sunday. Some of those will be remembered as significant, while others will later be dismissed as the kind of nitpicking that follows losing presidential bids. Victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan. 

But DeSantis’s campaign outsourced a lot of grassroots work to Never Back Down. The super PAC was beset by personnel problems and hemorrhaged cash throughout the Florida governor’s White House bid. 

There will be questions about whether future campaigns should rely so heavily on super PACs that they legally don’t really control.

Grassroots vs. the internet

DeSantis visited all 99 counties in Iowa in an attempt to win the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Trump devoted less effort to his ground game there.

Internet influencers played a large role in shaping DeSantis’s campaign message. In retrospect, they might have been “too online” while the “full Grassley” did not yield DeSantis a single Iowa county.

There was also considerable infighting between social media voices who had worked on the Trump 2016 and 2020 who found themselves split between the two Florida men in 2024. This undermined DeSantis’s image as a candidate devoid of drama and dissension, in contrast with Trump.

There were also considerable doubts about DeSantis as a retail politician, which the campaign implicitly conceded by so frequently rolling out his wife, Casey DeSantis, who was viewed as much stronger in this role.

Facts do care about your feelings

DeSantis to some degree tried to intellectualize parts of Trump’s appeal that were substantially visceral. 

Trump understood the importance of an emotional connection with the Republican base. DeSantis struggled to replicate one.

Trump’s grip on the GOP

DeSantis and everyone else underestimated the hold Trump had on the party. This was accentuated by the indictments against Trump, which made many Republicans feel the establishment was trying to keep them from voting for the former president — who they already thought got a raw deal in 2020 — in the first place.

Attempts to keep Trump off the ballot in Colorado, Maine, and elsewhere only deepened this sentiment.

DeSantis at times minimized this as Trump running on “his issues.” But Trump was successful in making his problems the party’s. Rank-and-file Republicans saw the former president as a victim of a two-tiered justice system that could just as easily ensnare themselves.  

Trump’s rivals, including DeSantis, could either be seen as siding against GOP voters or failing to draw a contrast with Trump at all.


It was a dilemma that DeSantis was unable to resolve. As a result, he fell well behind Trump in the national polls and short of his goals.

After losing Iowa to Trump in a landslide and falling into the single digits elsewhere, DeSantis had little choice but to suspend his campaign and see what he could salvage for 2028.