Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a mountain to climb if he wants to become president. He won’t just have to defeat former President Donald Trump to earn his party’s nomination in an ultraconservative GOP. After that, he’d need to pivot to the center with hopes of winning some independent or even liberal-leaning voters in a general election.
According to a recording of a Miami meeting of donors that was obtained by Florida Politics, DeSantis backers expressed concerns that the governor’s signing of a draconian six-week abortion ban in Florida could hurt his election chances.
“My Republican friends who have daughters and wives are upset,” one DeSantis supporter said. He added: “We need talking points.”
The reply from Team DeSantis revealed two things: They don’t think the abortion issue will hurt them majorly, and they think DeSantis’ age relative to President Joe Biden works in their favor.
The man who answered, identified by Florida Politics as pollster Ryan Tyson, was rather revealing when he claimed that DeSantis had given the “best position” a Republican could take in a Fox News interview last Thursday. As Florida Politics wrote in its coverage of that interview, DeSantis waffled on whether there should be a national ban on abortion.
The exchange highlights how serious a problem abortion could be for DeSantis as a candidate. Ever since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion last year, Republicans have faced fierce blowback from voters — including in states as conservative as Kansas. In Florida, DeSantis has a Republican-led legislature that essentially does whatever he wants it to do. That has made it easy for him to sign revanchist laws, such as the six-week abortion ban — laws likely to be unpopular in states that aren’t as rigged to help Republicans.
The leaked conversation doesn’t offer much consolation to any DeSantis supporters who might be worried on this front.
“I totally understand how difficult that is when you’re talking to a pro-choice donor. I get that,” someone on Team DeSantis says.
Tyson, the pollster, cited 80-year-old Biden’s age while seeking to downplay worries about DeSantis and abortion.
“If you are a voter in 2024, as we likely are in a historic recession, and you are choosing between a young candidate — Ron DeSantis — versus an octogenarian, and if you are voting on the issue of abortion as one of the top two issues for determining your vote for president, I would offer you that our data suggests that that person has a very high correlation with typical Democrat voting behavior,” he said.
There’s a lot to unpack there:
- There’s the assumption the U.S. will be facing a “historic recession” in 2024 (which some Republicans actually seem to want).
- There’s the notion that voters will favor a younger candidate on certain issues, even if — as is the case with DeSantis — the “young” candidate’s politics seem like they’re borrowed from the 19th century.
- And then there’s the extremely questionable determination that voters who prioritize abortion at the ballot box are mostly Democrats.
Given the risks of these calculations backfiring, it seems obvious why some Republicans are reluctant to place all their bets on DeSantis.