Will DeSantis, Rubio and Scott torch each other to vault from Florida to the White House?

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No matter how you slice it, only one candidate can survive the potential “Steel Cage” political death-match brewing in Florida between three Republicans: Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. It’s a highly anticipated WWE-like event of epic proportions that assumes current Florida resident Donald Trump will not run for president in 2024.

Of course, one never truly knows when it comes to Trump. There was the bizarre recent news report by Business Insider in which a Trump “adviser” declared that the former president “has lost 15 pounds since he left the White House.” One “veteran Republican strategist” told the publication: “I think there’s an extra 10 percent to 15 percent chance he runs if he lost 20 pounds.”     

Did you hear that, you 81 million Americans who voted against Trump? You’re his losing five more pounds away from your worst nightmare. If you truly love your country, you might want to think about getting together to crowdfund a donut shop near the entrance to the grounds of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Leaving that “Mirror, mirror on the wall” scenario aside, I am in the camp that believes Trump will not run for president again, choosing instead to try to influence various elections — including the 2024 presidential election — either from behind the walls of his palatial estate, on the campaign trail, or from some yet-to-be-created conservative social media platform.     

If that’s the case, it leaves the state of Florida wide open for DeSantis, Rubio and Scott to duke it out.   

Right now, the smart money is on DeSantis — first, because of the way he performed as governor during the COVID-19 pandemic, a response recently praised by even left-leaning Bill Maher on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”; and second, because that response significantly raised DeSantis’s national profile in a positive way.

In some critically important ways, it can be argued that the most consequential election of our current time was not Joe Biden’s barely breaking the finish-line tape ahead of a badly damaged Trump, who had been vilified for months by the most powerful megaphones of our nation — the media, entertainment industry and academia — but when then-Rep. Ron DeSantis eked out his ultra-slim recount victory for governor of Florida in 2018 over Andrew Gillum, the liberal mayor of Tallahassee.

Had Gillum won, he would have been governor when the pandemic hit the United States. Would he have joined other liberal governors in locking down the state and turning Florida into the Michigan of the Southeast? It’s a fair question, as are these: Had this happened, would much of the United States be as open and operating as normally as it is now without the example of Florida to lead the way? Or, would the country look more like the freedom-restricting provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia in Canada?

DeSantis may be basking in the positive limelight now, but he fully understands that neither Rubio nor Scott is going to roll over and give him a free ride on the path toward the White House. If the senators decide to become candidates for president, they will hit DeSantis hard during their campaigns. 

Running for president is not for the faint of heart, and the political landscape is littered with former governors and senators whose egos convinced them that statewide experience and successes were more than enough to propel them to the White House. They’re almost always wrong.

At this moment, whether they acknowledge it or not, DeSantis, Rubio and Scott each probably have a team of loyalists poring through the others’ backgrounds with the hope of finding some kind of political dirt — a personal issue, a crippling misstatement, evidence that a staff member, financial backer or close associate once crossed an ethical or legal line. And that’s all before the Democrats turn their opposition-research army loose upon the candidate who survives the Florida flailing.   

If they choose to run, DeSantis will lean on his performance during the pandemic. Rubio will lean on his past presidential-candidate experience and his foreign policy chops. Scott will lean on his business background. Each probably secretly hopes that Trump will give “the wink” to signal to his millions of supporters that he has bestowed his seal of approval.

While all of this is shaping up behind the scenes, sitting quietly in the wings will be Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor, a potential candidate herself. One can assume she’s hoping that DeSantis, Rubio and Scott smear each other so badly that she becomes the hands-down favorite for the Republican nomination in 2024.

Announced or not, these Republicans are gearing up for battle and the mud is about to fly.  

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

Tags 2024 presidential race coronavirus lockdowns Donald Trump Florida Republicans Joe Biden Marco Rubio Nikki Haley Rick Scott Ron DeSantis

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