Former President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE recently declared he would beat Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisThe CDC's Title 42 order fuels racism and undermines public health Chicago sues police union over refusal to comply with vaccine mandate Crist says as Florida governor he would legalize marijuana, expunge criminal records MORE in a potential Republican primary match-up for the party's 2024 presidential nomination. And based on current polling, he's almost certainly right.
"If I faced him, I'd beat him like I would beat everyone else,” Trump said of DeSantis in an interview with Yahoo Finance earlier this week. “I don't think I will face him. ... I think most people would drop out. I think he would drop out.”
A Trump 2024 run — which looks increasingly likely — would look a lot like 2016 from a media perspective. The former real estate mogul and star of the reality TV show "The Apprentice" would blot out the sun and dominate the media coverage. Most of said coverage would be profoundly negative, of course, with the usual comparisons of Trump to Hitler or (insert favorite totalitarian figure here) and enough file footage of the horrible Jan. 6 Capitol riot to fill an entire decade. (More on that later.)
With such a backdrop, the immediate questions (and probable answers) are:
Would DeSantis still run if Trump were to announce his intention to take back the White House? (Probably not.)
Does Trump really want to be president while in his 80s? (Probably so.)
Against whom would Trump or DeSantis (or both, on a combined ticket) run if President BidenJoe BidenPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks State school board leaves national association saying they called parents domestic terrorists Sunday shows preview: Supply chain crisis threaten holiday sales; uncertainty over whether US can sustain nationwide downward trend in COVID-19 cases MORE chose not to run again or was asked by his handlers not to run again? (Impossible to say.)
Despite Trump's media dominance and extremely loyal base, one could make the argument that DeSantis would have a better chance in a general election to beat President Biden, Vice President Harris or (insert favorite Democrat here) if he were the nominee. The governor, of course, would need the full blessing of Trump if the former president decided to sit this one out, complete with rallies on his behalf.
Why would DeSantis — who is just 43 and has never run for national office — be a better option if winning back the White House is the Republicans’ goal? Simply put, DeSantis doesn’t have remotely as much political baggage. DeSantis, an Iraq War veteran, would make the choice for voters (particularly for independents) one largely based on his positions on major issues versus those of Biden or Harris rather than a personality contest between two flawed candidates. That would be especially true regarding inflation, the economy, taxes, the southern border, foreign policy and Afghanistan.
In contrast, a personality contest is exactly what any race with Trump would become — about the person himself and not so much the issues. In addition, Trump’s propensity to continually relitigate the 2020 election (with declarations at every rally about it having been "stolen" from him, despite loss after loss in court and post-election vote audits not uncovering any victories in states such as Arizona or Georgia) would be a constant, pointless distraction.
On all the aforementioned issues, the Biden administration is failing badly in the eyes of most Americans. A recent Quinnipiac poll has Biden polling at 39 percent approval on the economy, 37 percent approval on taxes, 23 percent approval on border security and 28 percent approval on Afghanistan.
Overall, just 32 percent of independents support the president, with his overall approval clocking in at 38 percent. But if Trump runs, the focus would be largely taken off Biden's dismal record.
Biden's handlers wisely would attempt to turn such a 2024 contest into a rerun of the 2020 race, making the choice a referendum on Trump instead of Biden, who arguably has had the worst first nine months in office imaginable.
Battleground state polling reflects how poor Biden’s performance has been. Here are his approval-disapproval rankings in the 10 states that decide elections, per Civiqs polling: Arizona, 42-52; Florida, 40-54; Georgia, 39-53; Iowa, 35-59; Michigan, 42-54; Nevada, 43-49; North Carolina, 41-52; Ohio, 37-56; Pennsylvania, 42-51; Virginia, 42-51.
It's difficult to see how Biden turns those numbers upside down if he is the nominee. And if plan B (meaning Harris) is activated instead, the numbers likely would look worse, considering that she's polling lower than Biden in almost every sampling. Throw in her awful 2020 campaign for the party nomination, which ended in 2019 before one vote was cast, and it's looking gloomy for the Blue Team in 2024.
Unless, of course, Trump enters the fray — because there's no greater reverse motivator for the Democratic base and independents than the 45th president. It's easy to foresee a hold-your-nose election in which those who might otherwise vote against Biden or just stay home would, instead, turn out for Biden because they viewed another Trump presidency as infinitely worse.
And this perspective wouldn't be based on performance, of course. Leading up to the pandemic, the Trump era was highly successful, based on key metrics on which most presidencies are measured. The economy was strong; unemployment was at just 3.5 percent. The ISIS caliphate had been destroyed, the North Korea threat was diminished and the Middle East was relatively stable. The U.S. border was more secure.
Then COVID-19 came along, and the whole game changed.
Trump's handling of the pandemic, particularly from a messaging perspective, was profoundly horrid. He should have allowed the experts and his vice president, who headed the administration’s coronavirus task force, to take the lead on messaging and press conferences. But a defensive Trump insisted on taking dozens upon dozens of questions every day from the podium, with some press conferences lasting more than two hours. And the more he spoke, the worse it got.
The vaccines that most of the media said were impossible to deliver in 2020 came shortly after the election, thanks to Operation Warp Speed. For that, Trump deserved enormous credit, but it was too little, too late, in terms of his reelection bid.
A 2024 Trump campaign would be all about Trump, which is the way he likes it. Yes, he'd hit on all the key issues, but he wouldn't be able to resist rambling about the 2020 election being "stolen," which the press would make its main takeaway. Almost every media analysis would be about the man, the tone, the past, the impeachments but not his overall record or vision moving forward.
That wouldn't be the case with DeSantis. He still would receive the kind of negative press that Republicans John McCainJohn Sidney McCainProgressives say go big and make life hard for GOP The Biden-Harris train wreck may have its savior: 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump Kelly raises million in third quarter MORE, Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' GOP rallies around Manchin, Sinema MORE and, especially, Trump received during their presidential campaigns. But the governor has shown that he knows how to engage in this battle; the most notable example of this was when he struck back hard against an obvious hit piece by "60 Minutes" regarding his vaccine distribution in Florida earlier this year:
'60 Minutes' faces backlash from Democrats and Publix for critical story on Florida's vaccine rollouthttps://t.co/0kpa3rJPdO— Meridith McGraw (@meridithmcgraw) April 6, 2021
*Democratic* mayor of Palm Beach Dave Kerner, on 60 Mins DeSantis story:— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) April 5, 2021
"Our residents, like all Americans, are tired. And the media is making it worse. They are hellbent on dividing us for cheap views and clicks. 60 Minutes should be ashamed."https://t.co/oEbociUi2g
Trump versus Biden (or versus Harris or any other Democrat) would be another ratings bonanza, just like the 2016 and 2020 campaigns. The sound bites, drama and unnamed-source gossip dressed up as news stories would be an almost hourly occurrence. Another two-year political food fight, from the primaries to Election Day.
Largely forgotten would be potential solutions to a country divided and going decidedly in the wrong direction, according to most polling:
Trump will likely run. He'll likely be the nominee. And there's a chance he'd win, albeit not by much if that were to occur.
But the easier path for Republicans would be to nominate a governor such as DeSantis, who would make his case by drawing a contrast between himself and Joe Biden rather than by drawing unflattering attention to himself.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.