Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam describes a potential political disruption
Trump is back but now faces DeSantis the twice-impeached former president who refused to concede defeat and inspired a failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election culminating in a deadly attack on the US Capitol, officially declared that he is running again for presidency. It is unprecedented in American history to witness defeated former president running for election again while facing potential criminal indictment. He is the only president to be impeached twice and the only one impeached by a bipartisan vote. Contrary to all expectations, however, Trump remains Republican Party’s biggest draw packing his rallies with thousands of supporters unnerving his opponents. It has been noticed that his endorsements have proved decisive in many electoral contests and his Make America Great Again movement remains very popular across the country.
On the other hand, there is hardly any doubt that Trump has remained a hugely divisive force in American politics since after getting defeated in 2020 presidential election and his influence has been instrumental in largely reshaping the Republican Party that is struggling to wean away from him. This reaction is reflected in many polls that cite 54 per cent of voters opining that they have an unfavourable view of Trump, including 44 per cent who held very unfavourable views. 34 per cent of midterm voters said that they cast their ballot to express opposition to Trump with 22 per cent said they were voting as an expression of support for him and 41 per cent said he was not a factor.
The disappointing midterm election results have cemented the impression of the Republican Party that Trump is a substantial hurdle the party has to do something about. It is abundantly clear that Trump’s attack on other Republicans are taking a toll on his support with many of leading donors of the party, who already had no love lost for Trump, have privately started to devise means to sideline Trump for a new generation of political leaders. It must however be pointed out that despite his weak points Trump enters the presidential race with big advantages. His campaign chest is estimated to $69 million which though he may be legally barred from using to fund his campaign but could route to a super PAC to support his candidacy without direct coordination. He can also benefit from the massive database of donors that his old group built up and he remains the party’s best fundraiser, frequently appearing in solicitations for other candidates and committees.
However, up to this point no one dared challenge Donald Trump within the circles of Republican Party but now governor Florida Ron DeSantis appeared on the horizon. DeSantis initially appeared reverent towards Trump but slowly came out of his shadow and started to show his independent streak. His huge win in Florida, depicted as a standout event for the Republicans amid many disappointments, is fueling a surge in support for his presidential prospects from party leaders, donors and activists in the GOP’s Donald Trump-averse wing, as well as fresh attacks from the former president. Trump is widely known to be very impatient when it comes to any challenge he faces to his position and he is famous for opening fire on any challenger without taking care if it is appropriate or otherwise.
It is reported that candidates endorsed by Trump in some pivotal races for Senate and governorships lost, hurting GOP efforts to regain congressional majorities and control of statehouses. That has prompted some Republicans to more openly call for the party to move past the former president. It is now conjectured that if he decides to run, Ron DeSantis is not expected to announce a bid until after his state’s legislative session ends in early May. Republican activists in Iowa, where the party’s presidential nomination process will start with the first-in-the-nation caucuses in early 2024 are of the opinion that they are eagerly anticipating an eventual visit from the 44-year-old Florida governor. Their sentiments are that they are tired of Trump’s bogey and want to see an end of it.
On the other hand Trump’s camp has for months anticipated a challenge by DeSantis and would prefer that others get in the race so support in the non-Trump wing of the party is splintered. In the meanwhile Trump has wasted no time in going after DeSantis and recently issued a lengthy statement attacking him as disloyal and taking credit for his political rise, thanks to an endorsement in the 2018 gubernatorial primary. Recalling his own 2016 battle in a crowded primary field, Trump relished how he easily knocked them out, one by one and emphasised that this is the repeat of the similar situation and the result would be the same. The attack came in a statement claiming that many news channels are for Ron DeSantis in an apparent reference to recent opinion articles in certain news group.
Interestingly, despite not appearing on the ballot, Trump displayed his appeal in dozens of packed rallies during the midterm election cycle, a loyalty that has also fueled his small-dollar fundraising machine. His unconventional style and celebrity attracted new voters to the party and candidates up and down the ballot adopted his policies. Past predictions of his political demise, including in the aftermath of the 6 January Capitol riot did not materialise. The newfound urgency for some looking for an alternative to Trump comes after several of the candidates he backed either lost or were trailing in votes still being counted, including in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada. Several candidates he backed in primaries earlier this year also lost those elections. His biggest victories so far this week are in Ohio and North Carolina.
While Trump has proved to be a master of online fundraising, the party’s more-establishment-minded big donor community could give a boost to Ron DeSantis should he enter the race. It is believed that DeSantis’s current victory will accelerate his momentum. Though Trump remains the most important national figure in the party but it is now indisputable that DeSantis is right behind him and offers activists, donors and voters an alternative to Trump. Many in DeSantis’s camp think believe that he should seize the opportunity and run now for the White House. Other possible presidential hopefuls include former Vice President Mike Pence former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
It is also mentioned that chances of DeSantis also appear bright as his state delivers more than a tenth of the total electoral votes needed to win the presidency. He has realigned the Florida political environment in a way that Republicans will be the dominant party for decades. It is added that he has forged new voter coalitions has pierced the South Florida stranglehold of Democrats showing the national Republican Party how to win in what had up to now been a traditional purple state. His victory over Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor of Florida who later became a Democrat, was a rout. DeSantis won 62 of the state’s 67 counties and won his second term by 19 percentage points. The conventional wisdom is that DeSantis is a rising stock right now and Trump is a falling stock but there is no guarantee that DeSantis’s stock will keep rising. TW