by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I wrote in July that the only viable “play call” for Ron DeSantis’s campaign is to capture soft Trump voters who hold generally warm views toward the former president but are open to considering others. Today’s Des Moines Register/NBC poll of Iowa Republicans confirms that thesis.
Trump leads DeSantis 42 percent to 19 percent in an open field, with no other candidate commanding double-digit support. Though 42 percent is not a majority, it remains a fact that well over 50 percent of Republican Iowa caucus-goers hold positive views of Trump. …
… Trump captures almost all of the support from the first group and almost none from the third. This means that in the event of a consolidation around a single, non-Trump candidate, the second group will choose the winner of the Iowa caucus.
DeSantis easily remains the strongest non-Trump candidate, but if he hopes to beat Trump one-on-one, he’ll need more than the 31 percent of Iowans who are actively anti-Trump. A fair amount of punditry, I think, misses this point. I share the frustration of many regarding DeSantis’s measured and often veiled criticism of Trump, and there’s a part of me that wants DeSantis to let loose and throw everything he can at the former president. I keep reminding myself, though, that the numbers simply don’t support the notion that DeSantis can emulate Chris Christie and remain viable.
DeSantis’s campaign has been disappointing, for sure. I hope he figures out how to attack Trump effectively. But it’s imperative that he do so without alienating soft Trump supporters. With 42 percent of the Iowa vote locked up, if even a fraction of soft-Trump voters who are considering other candidates decide to migrate to Trump, it’s hard to see any way the former president loses.