After months of speculation, Governor DeSantis officially entered the 2024 presidential race on Wednesday, making the announcement Wednesday night in a Twitter Spaces event after filing the required FEC paperwork a few hours earlier. An official kickoff event will take place at a later date in his hometown of Dunedin, Florida.
Despite recent polling that shows DeSantis trailing former President Trump by more than 30 points, the Florida governor told donors last week that he is the only Republican who can beat Joe Biden. Conservative activist Gary Bauer, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, is calling DeSantis to task for making that claim.
"I'm a little peeved that Governor DeSantis is making that argument that only he, DeSantis, can defeat President Biden – and I know that some people believe that," Bauer tells AFN. "[But we also] know that Trump did win the presidency once – and only lost it the second time by a total of about 100,000 votes spread out over three different states."
The longtime conservative activist contends that, heading into 2024, there's another reality about a large segment of Trump followers who don't neatly fit into the "conservative" category: if Trump doesn't get the nomination, he says, that voting bloc may not back whoever is nominated – and the GOP will come up short again.
"So, I think we have to be very careful in throwing Donald Trump overboard," Bauer warns, "because [at the same time] we may very well throw overboard I think probably eight or ten million people who are in this battle only because they're so committed to Donald Trump."
Trump's style of leadership lacking?
But other observers aren't shy about expressing their doubts about the former president. For example, some argue that Trump – having already been Commander-in-Chief for four years – has a huge advantage on the national defense front. But retired Navy commander Kirk Lippold questions that perception.
"I look at some of the disasters that Trump created in our foreign policy," he tells AFN. "You've got to remember while Biden executed a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, Trump set the conditions by negotiating directly with the Taliban and completely undercutting the legitimacy and ability of the Afghan government to be able to control their own destiny.
"Trump set the conditions for the Afghanistan that we're living with today," Lippold states bluntly.
And while political scientist Dr. Charles Dunn acknowledges Trump is the clear frontrunner right now – and views DeSantis as Trump's "biggest threat" to the nomination – he is convinced it's going to come down to which Republican candidate can best unify the party in the general election.
"… There are more people out there who think [party] unity will come about more effectively and sooner with a candidate who is a positive [leader] and not a negative leader. Trump is a negative leader," Dunn states.
Similarly, Lippold argues the country needs to move beyond Trump.
"When you have Trump [calling DeSantis] 'Ron DeSanctimonious,' guess what? Grow up, Donald Trump – those days are over," says Lippold. "And when you look at Ron DeSantis himself, he has shown he can govern; he can pass legislation. All those things are easily transferable."
The bottom line, according to the retired Navy officer, is "we don't need a fifth-grader in charge … we don't need governing by confrontation. We need governing by leadership – and I don't think Trump has that ability."
Lippold commanded the USS Cole during a 2000 terrorist attack. He now serves on the board of a nonprofit that combats suicidal thinking among veterans. Dunn is emeritus professor of government at Clemson University in South Carolina.