After months as the candidate considered most likely to challenge Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential primary, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Concord on Friday sounding like a man who knows his campaign is in trouble. Rather than sidestepping criticism of Trump as he has in the past, DeSantis threw down on the former president on big spending, big government, and big disappointments over his handling of the border.
“He didn’t construct the wall in four years, he didn’t drain the swamp, and he didn’t do a lot of the things [he promised],” DeSantis said.
The Florida governor also unloaded on Nikki Haley, completely dismissing the idea she could ever build a GOP coalition to challenge Trump and suggesting she was actually colluding with the former president to be his 2024 running mate.
“There’s a reason why Haley and Trump spend money against me,” DeSantis told a town hall crowd of 150 or so. “He has not spent any money against her, and she has not spent any money against him.”
And, he said, there was a “question she will not answer directly, and she owes [New Hampshire voters] an answer to: Will she accept a vice presidential nomination from Donald Trump — yes or no?”
DeSantis said he would not accept the second spot “under any circumstances because that’s not why I’m running.”
“I’d rather be governor than vice president, no question,” he added.
Polls show DeSantis is struggling to stay in second place in Iowa and has already faded to fourth in the Granite State, behind Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. And while Haley supporters are running a heavy ad schedule in New Hampshire and a pro-Christie PAC just announced a $3.5 million Granite State buy, DeSantis’ campaign is virtually dark. Nothing on air from the campaign, the pro-DeSantis “Never Back Down” PAC, or the new super PAC Fight Right.
As for the vice presidential issue, a Haley campaign spokesperson expressed the candidate’s exasperation with the attack.
“Phony Ron DeSantis has spent 10 times more money attacking Nikki Haley than Donald Trump,” the spokesperson said. “He’ll say anything to try to salvage his sinking ship of a campaign. Nikki has been very clear from day one: she doesn’t play for second. Ron is trying to play for fourth in New Hampshire.”
DeSantis made an argument Friday that is frequently offered by his supporters, who say a majority of GOP primary voters are either solid Trump supporters or Trump-friendly conservatives, and they simply won’t back a candidate perceived as an anti-Trump moderate like Haley.
“I’m the only one that can beat Trump, let’s just be clear on that,” DeSantis said. “Haley cannot get enough support from core Republicans and conservatives. She’s getting support from people who either aren’t Republicans or are on kind of the 10 or 15 percent [of moderates].
“People who are for Trump, I’m their next choice. If everyone else got out but me and Trump, I would get that support because [those voters] would see that.”
It was an extremely strategic, political argument, and that is not good for DeSantis, several Granite State Republicans told NHJournal.
“That’s just not how people vote,” one New Hampshire campaign professional said. “They vote for candidates they want, not to block people they don’t.”
NHJournal also asked DeSantis about the perception among some Granite State Republicans that he is “the Iowa candidate,” rarely campaigning here and essentially abandoning the First in the Nation primary to Haley.
DeSantis said it was a simple matter of timing.
“If New Hampshire was first and Iowa second, my time would be spent differently,” DeSantis said. “The reality is, we have this first contest where the first time people are going to actually vote, and that gives us the opportunity to confound the narratives.”
DeSantis suggested his performance in Iowa is the key to his New Hampshire strategy.
“I really do think this is dynamic. I think people make decisions late. I don’t think that any of this is firmed up at all. And so we’re going to be able to capture that, and we’re going to do well.”
DeSantis told reporters several people came up to him and said he had flipped their votes. Linda and Bob Krewson of Hooksett told NHJournal they were split. Linda is backing DeSantis, but Bob isn’t on board.
“I’m still deciding between DeSantis and Haley.”
“I’m worried about the wokeness that’s come into politics, the DEI –it’s a real problem,” Bob said, who added he won’t be backing Trump. “Too much chaos.”
“I’ve heard some Democrats are interested in Haley,” Linda said. “That gives me pause.”