Thursday, April 20, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- DeSantis Wilts in the Glare of the National Spotlight

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

It has been nearly a month since FHQ declared in Invisible Primary: Visible that national scrutiny had arrived for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. And even then, that declaration may have been behind the curve. Regardless, things have not really turned around for DeSantis in the short term and the spotlight has not gotten any less bright. Whispered discontent has only grown louder. From donors. From potential voters. From folks in his backyard who otherwise might be inclined to endorse the governor. Opponents, announced and not, have also taken notice and taken (repeated) shots.

It has not been a good month.

And that is especially true for a potential candidate who is not yet even in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. His travel schedule may betray that notion, but the governor is not an official candidate for president. It is still early, but as FHQ has said, borrowing from Yogi Berra, it gets late early out there. 

Still, even with Donald Trump scooping up Florida endorsements seemingly left and right in the last several days and weeks, there is one thought that has stuck in FHQ's mind. Yes, a quarter of the Florida Republican delegation to congress may already be in Trump's corner, but what about all those state legislators who are working hand-in-hand with DeSantis this 2023 session to deliver a conservative agenda to serve as a policy blueprint for the governor's likely presidential run? If that working relationship runs deep, then that is a potential wellspring of support, if not manpower, to fuel a campaign ahead of the primary in the Sunshine state next March. 

Only now, even those state legislators are voicing frustrations with the governor. And that is a potentially troubling sign for DeSantis. There may not be as high a premium on those endorsements in 2023 as there was in 2015 when the Republican presidential nomination race was more wide open and national figures mostly stayed on the sidelines, not endorsing. However, state legislators carry their own worth in this process. That is truer of home state legislators. These are the folks who work most closely with the governor to pass an agenda on which they are presumably in lockstep. But if those same state legislators cannot or will not vouch for or vociferously back the governor and what he has expended his political capital on, then that also says something. And it would not be the best of invisible primary signals.

No, that does not mean that folks in the Florida legislature will not ultimately endorse DeSantis. But that that is even a topic of conversation says a lot about the current state of affairs for Team DeSantis. There will be pressure to roll out a lot of endorsements from these very types of officials on day one when the governor does announce. He will need something of a counterweight to the damage Trump has already done in pulling in Florida endorsements so far.

FHQ spoke some earlier this week about the Trump campaign's professionalization through the lens of these congressional endorsements from the Florida delegation. Rolling Stone adds a bit of color to that:
By this past weekend, Trump’s inner circle was convinced they had a number of new Florida lawmakers ready to announce their support. Previously, the idea was to release the endorsements at once, likely Thursday or Friday of this week. However, by the weekend, plans had changed: It was decided that the Trump campaign would drip them out at different points in the coming days — including on Tuesday when DeSantis would be on the ground in Washington, D.C., trying to lock down his own endorsements from the Florida delegation. The ploy was part of a deliberate effort to, in the words of one of the sources familiar with the matter, “embarrass and mindf*ck DeSantis” as much as possible, via a steady drip.

Meanwhile, DeSantis did make his way into the first-in-the-South Palmetto state on Wednesday, a trip with events organized by And to the Republic, a DeSantis-aligned 501(c)(4) nonprofit group. Never Back Down, the super PAC affiliated with the Florida governor, bracketed the visit with ads placed on local news during the 6pm hour on both Tuesday and Wednesday, the latter of which was just before DeSantis was set to speak in Spartanburg in the Upstate. 

Over at FHQ Plus...
  • Connecticut Democrats' delegate selection plan says something about presidential primary legislation in the Nutmeg state, Idaho is still in a pickle over its own presidential primary and the push to change the Ohio primary date won't die. All at FHQ Plus.
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On this date... 1976, Democrats in Missouri caucused and although Jimmy Carter got the most votes, caucus-goers followed state leaders' advice to send an uncommitted slate of delegates to the national convention.


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