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Another One Bites The Dust

Trump slays another Florida rising star.

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The intense media coverage that followed Ron DeSantis's decision to suspend his presidential campaign dwarfed an otherwise slow weekend in New Hampshire, as voters prepared to choose among the three remaining GOP candidates - former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, former President Trump, and Ryan Binkley (R), a businessman and pastor.

Most Americans would be hard-pressed to name every candidate in the crowded GOP 2024 presidential field - fifteen said they wanted to seek the nomination. Twelve have since withdrawn, including Ron DeSantis. 

DeSantis's extraordinarily long video announcement disappointed millions of his fans and the curiously named Never Back Down campaign that he led. DeSantis chose this slogan to highlight how he took on the pandemic-control-activists and the woke police when, in truth, the slogan applies far better to Trump, who has never backed down from far greater attacks since his election in 2016.

Many on social media praised DeSantis for bowing out before a potential drubbing in New Hampshire and immediately, though reluctantly, supporting Trump. [Seven years ago, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, another rising star of the GOP establishment, had done the same after failing in the New Hampshire primaries following a disastrous debate performance]. The intense reaction to DeSantis's statement was a far cry from the loud yawn that greeted others' suspension announcements - including Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Asa Hutchison, and Mike Pence. 

The star of the 2022 election cycle - DeSantis headlined our editorial on election night - had so much to offer a country unsure of conservative leadership. DeSantis gave his supporters a thunderous victory speech after crushing Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in the governor's race by an astounding 20 points in the Sunshine State. Florida had become the laughing stock of the world in 2000 when the United States Supreme Court decided an entire presidential election after weeks of agony. George Bush 43 won over former Vice President Al Gore by just 538 votes. 

Former President Trump, uncomfortably watching the klieg lights focused on the GOP's newest star, let DeSantis scoop up all the media attention for a short while. Trump himself had been a victim of DOJ raids at Mar-a-Lago, and the negative press hadn't stopped - so he was waiting to pounce. 

The next day after DeSantis's victory speech, President Biden gave Trump an enormous political boost. Celebrating the Democrats' election performance in a White House press briefing and confident that Trump was weakened given how badly his picks had fared the previous night, Biden let slip what had been on his mind for years. "We just have to demonstrate that he (Trump) will not take power if he does run, making sure he — under legitimate efforts of our Constitution — does not become the next president again."

About a week afterward, Trump announced he would run for the 2024 nomination, refocusing the media's attention on him rather than DeSantis. Two days later, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the appointment of Jack Smith as Special Counsel to investigate Trump's role in J6 and his handling of the classified documents. And with 91 charges filed against Trump since then, DeSantis could not compete with the powerful bond the GOP electorate has renewed with Trump, an electoral majority of which now says that Biden stole the 2020 election and the Democrats have gone too far to exploit all means to stop Trump. Emotions in politics, like love and war, can be decisive and easily win over administrative competence and efficiency.

On the latter score, DeSantis has himself to blame. The DeSantis who ran his presidential campaign was a distant cousin of the skilled DeSantis who governed Florida and won his two statewide elections. DeSantis made numerous unforced errors, from the botched announcement last May on X to his ever-changing attempts to define himself. He kept referring to his accomplishments in Florida - but governors, even of large states, do not have a magic formula for replicating their successes in deeply divided Washington. If resumes prevailed, Mike Pence - a six-term conservative Congressman, a former Indiana governor, and Trump's Vice President - should have been at the top of the pack. 

On policy, DeSantis's positions were mainly similar to Trump's - tightening the border, conducting a war against wokeism, and defunding Ukraine. DeSantis failed because he didn't adequately communicate why he would be a better standard bearer of Trumpism when the real Trump is out there and well.

But not everything is down for DeSantis. Four years is a long time in politics. Trump could reward his fellow Floridian to be his Secretary of State and boost his promising future. Adding foreign policy credentials to an excellent domestic resume can never hurt DeSantis in 2028. Trump says he has officially retired the DeSanctimonious nickname, so hope for a fruitful partnership remains.