Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott are the ticket to beat Trump

Ever since Donald Trump sulked out of the White House, the question has never been whether he would do whatever he could to get back in, the question has always been whether he could do it. At first it looked like Trump could easily secure the Republican nomination but could not unseat President Biden.

Slowly but steadily this script is flipping.

Increasingly Trump is looking stronger against a flailing Biden, while eroding as the preferred candidate for Republicans. The prospect of the GOP turning to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is very real, if DeSantis plays his cards right and Trump continues to play his cards wrong. And a Ron DeSantis-Tim Scott ticket could be a combination Trump can’t beat.

Trouble topping Biden

Trump should be ahead — way ahead — of Biden in any prospective 2024 ballot test, but that is not the case. In spite of nine months of bad news and worsening inflation, Biden and Trump are roughly even across multiple national surveys. Looking at the April polling, Trump’s best result is the Insider Advantage poll with Trump at 47 percent to Biden’s 43 percent. Both Harris and Redfield & Wilton have Trump up 2 points. Alternately, Morning Consult has Biden leading 45 percent to 44 percent, and YouGov has Biden leading by 2 points.

And all this while Biden’s approval ratings are tanking. Through mid-August 2021, Biden’s approval average stayed above 50 percent. Since then, his approval has collapsed to an average of 42 percent. The problem for Trump is that his approvals are hardly moving. Trump’s average approval split was 53 percent unfavorable to 43 percent favorable in August and remains roughly the same today.

The problem for Trump is that his approval numbers look locked in. And Trump has never been above 50 percent, with the exception of a very brief inaugural bounce in 2017. The recent Echelon Insights poll, a conservative-leaning firm, has Trump under water by 17 points — at 40 percent approve and 57 percent disapprove.

In 2024, Trump can only win if Biden is less popular than his own abysmal ratings.

Not only that, voters will have to decide whether they want to go back to the chaos of Trump, as opposed to the bumbling of Biden. Since Trump’s negatives are built-in, Biden will have the initiative and an opportunity to patch things up just enough to win. All in all, Trump should be well ahead of Biden. He’s not, and his struggle to build a lead is a bad omen.

DeSantis for the win

Until the past few months, it looked like Trump was guaranteed the GOP nomination if he wanted it. Only the prospect of losing a second time to Biden could dissuade him. But that is starting to change as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is emerging as a real threat to Trump.

DeSantis polls far better than any other potential Republican hopeful. The recent Echelon poll has DeSantis leading Mike Pence 51 percent to 34 percent in a primary without Trump. This result is typical of most Trumpless GOP Presidential polls.

Echelon puts Trump ahead of DeSantis 55 percent to 34 percent among likely voters, with only 39 percent “definitely” voting for Trump. In the most recent national primary polls, Trump scores anywhere from 54 to 59 percent — and an abysmal 42 percent in a February YouGov poll. In state primary polls for Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, Trump fails to top 46 percent against DeSantis.

In a normal presidential horse race, a 25-point or more lead would be a comfortable margin. But for Trump, his lead over DeSantis masks significant weakness. First, Trump is running for president and DeSantis is not. That alone depresses any putative opponent’s poll numbers. Second, Trump’s numbers are far below his approval ratings among Republicans — and that gap has been growing for the past year.

The most recent YouGov poll had Trump’s approval with Republicans at 80 percent. Morning Consult has Trump at 83 percent. Trump’s polling for a return to the Oval Office is running nearly 30 points below his approval ratings. In addition, the Echelon poll shows only 57 percent of 2020 Trump voters want him to run again.

Running for re-election has proven to be a surprising advantage for DeSantis. Normally, having to run for re-election would sap a potential presidential candidate’s resources and mire him or her in a morass of local issues. Fortunately for DeSantis, his opponent is the incompetent, snake-oily Charlie Crist, whom DeSantis leads in the most recent credible poll, 55 percent to 32 percent. DeSantis has led easily in every credible poll this calendar year.

This lead has allowed DeSantis to include more of a national focus in both his campaign and his governing. As a consequence, DeSantis is actually accomplishing conservative/populist policy ends. Trump, by comparison, has spent the past year whining about his problems, screeching at his enemies and trying to play kingmaker in the GOP — with decidedly mixed results.

Provided he cruises to victory in November, DeSantis will end 2022 with a list of real political and policy accomplishments — and the opportunity to collect the support of every Republican office-seeker (and their supporters) whom Trump has kicked in the teeth.

Tim Scott to close the deal

Locking up the nomination would require the unorthodox move of naming Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) as his vice-presidential nominee. This bold move would create a real coalition against Trump with the most attractive potential 2024 running mate for any GOP nominee.

DeSantis and Scott make it two against one and put Trump behind the eight-ball in early primary state South Carolina. Trump would have to go on the offensive against two very popular Republicans — and he’d have to make the case why an undisciplined, 76-year-old loser to Joe Biden is a better bet than two new, popular rising stars.

Why would Tim Scott decide to team up with DeSantis and not simply wait for the VP nomination to fall into his lap? Leverage and loyalty. Scott would have leverage over DeSantis to cut a decent deal for himself. As for Trump, loyalty is a one-way street — his way. Whatever promises Trump would make to Scott would be completely worthless. After seeing how Trump treated the uber-loyal Mike Pence, only the most desperate politician would consider being Trump’s running mate.

The key for a DeSantis-Scott ticket is a one-on-one battle with Trump. Just like “The Apprentice,” this new Trump show is getting old and worn. When faced with a simple choice and the risk of Trump fumbling away another election, Republican voters will likely tell Trump, “You’re Fired!”

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.

Tags 2024 presidential candidates 2024 Republican primary Biden Biden job approval Donald Trump Joe Biden public opinion polls Republican Party Rick Scott Ron DeSantis Trump approval ratings

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