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MIKE MCKENNA: Ron DeSantis Is Living Rent-Free In Trump’s Head

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Michael McKenna Contributor
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There are a lot of people who are confident that the contest for the Republican nomination for president is pretty much all over except for the formalities. President Trump, obviously, does not share that confidence.

There is no other explanation for the consistent and aggressive attacks from Team Trump (and Mr. Trump himself) directed at Governor DeSantis. (RELATED: REP. BYRON DONALDS: There Is No Doubt Trump Is The Right Choice For America)

For example, twice in the last few weeks, the former president has taken to Truth Social to attack Governor DeSantis for his temerity (or “disloyalty” if you prefer) in seeking the nomination against his ostensible benefactor. Over the weekend, the former president’s media team collected and shared bad headlines from Governor DeSantis’s recent overseas trip.

No telling how many Republican primary voters there are in Japan or the United Kingdom.

The silliness has gone so far as having Mr. Trump complain about the State of Florida (to which he moved from the dumpster fire that is New York not 5 years ago).

In comparison, Team Trump rarely engages with the other candidates in the contest. They took no notice of Governor Hutchinson’s recent entry into the race. They have remained mostly silent with respect to Governor Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Senator Tim Scott, and the always provocative Governor Christie.

Why is Governor DeSantis living all alone rent-free in Team Trump’s head?

Perhaps Mr. Trump has seen the recent polling that indicates that Governor DeSantis would do better than Mr. Trump in a general election.

Mr. Trump’s own polling team (Fabrizio Lee) recently released the results of a survey they did for the Wall Street Journal. That survey indicated that Governor DeSantis would defeat President Biden nationally (by 3%) while Mr. Trump would lose nationally by that same margin (which was also coincidentally the same margin by which Mr. Trump lost in in 2020). 

In state-level polling done by Public Opinion Strategies, Mr. Trump trails Mr. Biden in Arizona by 1; Governor DeSantis leads Mr. Biden by 6. In Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump trails Mr. Biden by 4 points; Governor DeSantis leads Mr. Biden by 3 points.

In Nevada, Governor DeSantis leads Mr. Biden by 3 points; Mr. Trump trails him by 1. According to a survey done by Cygnal, Governor DeSantis runs 4 points better than Mr. Trump in Iowa.

If the polling is right — always a question — and Mr. Trump were the nominee and the election were now, Mr. Biden would win reelection with 319 electoral votes. If Governor DeSantis were the nominee, he would win the election with at least 286 electoral votes.

We are, of course, at the very beginning of this cycle and things can and will change. Team Trump knows that.  They also know that the notion that governor will perform better than the former president in a general election is a powerful narrative that needs to be strangled in its crib.

At the same time, one of the cardinal rules of life generally and politics specifically is to never punch down. You never attack anyone who is or should be beneath your attention. By focusing on Governor DeSantis, even more than on the incumbent president, Mr. Trump, wittingly or otherwise, is elevating the governor.

Presidents and former presidents should know better. If he wants to sail smoothly towards renomination, Mr. Trump needs to avoid creating a campaign vibe in which the two leading contenders are considered competitors within the same peer group.

Mr. Trump does better when he speaks to the issues that matter to people and the nation, avoids the airing of his personal grievances, and ignores potential competitors. There is, however, no telling how long he can maintain that discipline.

Michael McKenna was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House. He co-hosts a weekly podcast, The Unregulated.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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