Six months ago, when the expected “red wave” failed to fully manifest, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looked seriously competitive for the presidency. Winning a landslide victory in Florida while Republicans nationwide underperformed despite their perceived association with former President Donald Trump, plus the volatility of many of the individual candidates like Kari Lake—who openly mocked her predecessor Ron McCain and denied the results of the 2020 election—he seemed a shoe-in as a real contender in the Republican primary. From there, it seemed like a short shot to the Oval Office, as current President Joe Biden’s popularity remained underwater. So, what happened?
DeSantis has been polling significantly below Trump in recent months, and as of May 2, a CBS poll put Trump at a 36-point lead over the governor. Some have argued that this is because DeSantis hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, although nobody is under the illusion that he doesn’t plan to run, and he’s made it clear to members of his inner circle that he aspires to the presidency.
By all accounts, DeSantis’s campaign should be picking up more and more speed. He’s had a fantastically successful legislative session thus far, passing the six-week abortion ban and concealed carry without a permit. He has taken over New College of Florida, strong-armed dozens of individual school board members into power, redistricted the entire state heavily in favor of the Republican Party and made waves nationally and internationally by traveling to visit early primary states and key U.S. allies. The presidential aspirant has been racking up wins left and right, yet he is polling worse and worse as time goes on.
A peek behind the curtain shows a very different picture than the successes he seems to be enjoying. For starters, he’s hemorrhaging donors. Ken Griffin, Thomas Peterffy and John Catsimatidis—all major Republican donor powerhouses known for favoring DeSantis—have all suggested that they might drop their support. Concerns over his struggle with Disney, an apparent lack of personal access for the donors to the governor, his support for the abortion ban and other policy issues seem to be driving his donor base away from him.
Meanwhile, his political backers seem to be few and far between. Trump has racked up dozens of endorsements from national Republican politicians, including seven of the 20 House Representatives within the state of Florida. DeSantis, meanwhile, has only gotten one. The story of DeSantis’s meeting with Texas Rep. Lance Gooden has already become infamous—Gooden took a meeting with DeSantis and immediately declared his support for DeSantis’s major opponent.
Speaking of DeSantis’s major opponent, Trump has pulled no punches, accusing DeSantis of possibly having had sexual relations with his students as a teacher. DeSantis has made it his mission to be Trump without the volatility, but Trump increasingly makes it clear that he will attack DeSantis to win the primary. Now, as polls lean more and more in favor of the former President, it’s unclear if DeSantis can continue to avoid escalating the conflict between himself and his one-time benefactor. Unluckily for him, that would also almost certainly spell disaster for his as-of-yet unannounced presidential campaign.
Even interviews with DeSantis make him seem nervous and frenetic, and he’s drawn the ire of the internet for coming across as twitchy, anxious, and combative. He snapped at a reporter who asked about his time in Guantanamo Bay, with commentators going on to say he was “not ready for prime time.” His international tour included a speech where he was squinting at the camera because his podium faced the sun. And he was notably absent from the state when South Florida was experiencing major floods, something his opponents took note of.