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Ron DeSantis versus Donald Trump, can the apprentice beat the master?

From our correspondent in the United States,

This fight will be won in the mud. By officially launching the 2024 presidential race on Wednesday, Ron DeSantis hopes to succeed where Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz failed in 2016. But to beat Donald Trump, who so far looks untouchable in the primary with 55% of voting intentions, the young governor of Florida will have to succeed in destabilizing a mentor whom he has copied a lot.

A baby Trump

In 2017, Ron DeSantis is a congressman known for never saying hello to his colleagues, even Republicans. “He’s a motherfucker who doesn’t care about people and only cares about Ron DeSantis,” assures Politico former Michigan lawmaker David Trott.

When he entered the race for governor of Florida in 2018, he benefited from the support of Donald Trump during the primary, which he put forward in a campaign ad. DeSantis builds a cube wall with his kids, reads them the real estate magnate’s bestseller, The Art of the Deal(“You’re fired!”) and puts her son to bed in a “Make America Great Again” onesie.

DeSantis would ultimately win the election by a slim 0.4 point margin over Democrat Andrew Gillum, weakened by corruption charges.

An “anti-woke” soldier

Coming from a middle-class family and passed by the prestigious universities of Yale and Harvard, Ron DeSantis enlisted as a lawyer in the Navy and was deployed in Iraq. At the head of Florida, he has made the Covid-19 pandemic a fight for individual freedoms, notably refusing to impose the wearing of masks at school. Since then, he has embarked on a culture war against “Wokism”, with laws to limit the teaching in school of the History of racism and LGBTQ + themes.

Like Trump, his strength is “his ability to understand the electorate to determine the controversial themes on which he can surf”, estimated David Trott. But in seeking to “out-Trump” Trump, Ron DeSantis sometimes goes too far, as with his legal fight against Disney, criticized by many Republicans. And the sending of migrants by plane to Democratic strongholds, described as “cruel” by the White House, could go down badly with moderate independent voters if he were the nominated candidate in November 2024.

A robot that lacks charisma

“Ron DeSantis can campaign on his conservative record that would make any Republican jealous. But in the Trump era, that’s less important than your personality. And he does not have this charisma which attracts voters now accustomed to excess”, confides to 20 minutes Barrett Marsonan Arizona-based Republican strategist.

Renowned for not having a sense of humor, and even less self-mockery, DeSantis goes to the quarter turn and likes to give lessons. Donald Trump has nicknamed him for this reason “Ron DeSanctimonious” or more recently “DeSanctus”. His nasal tone, which always sounds annoyed, doesn’t help him, nor does his mechanical laughter that has already become a meme.

Trump’s threat

After the rout of the conspiratorial Trumpist candidates in the midterms of November 2022, especially in the disputed states, Donald Trump experienced an air pocket in which Ron DeSantis, re-elected governor in an armchair, engulfed himself, in particular by making a breakthrough in the Latino electorate. The Republican establishment has taken to dreaming of “Trumpism without Trump”, with a more disciplined and less repulsive candidate. But since then, DeSantis has failed to pass the second. At 20.9% of voting intentions, according to the average of RealClearPolitics polls, the governor is 34 points behind the former president.

So far, he has been timid in his attacks, but that could change during the first TV debates at the end of August. At 44, will he dare to attack the age of Trump, who will be 77 in a few weeks? Will he say loud and clear that the outgoing Republican lost the 2020 election? Trump, who criticizes the “lack of loyalty” of his former foal, will not hesitate on his side. “I know more about him than anyone, maybe except his wife,” he warned in November, before publishing a post on Truth Social insinuating that Ron DeSantis had tried to seduce high school girls when he briefly been a teacher, at age 24.

A huge challenge

Even if everything can change quickly in politics, especially with the court cases surrounding Trump, “DeSantis is facing a mountain,” said Barrett Marson. The launch of his campaign, live on Twitter, experienced major technical problems on Wednesday. “A disaster”, rejoiced Donald Trump, who shared a video of a SpaceX rocket in the colors of DeSantis imploding.

On the merits, the former tenant of the White House questioned the ability of DeSantis to beat Joe Biden, with proposed cuts on retirement pensions (Social security) and the health of seniors (Medicare), which Donald Trump , especially popular among retirees, does not want to touch.

To the populism of Trump, Ron DeSantis opposes an orthodoxy which could handicap him during a possible duel against Joe Biden, judge Barrett Marson: “The ban on abortion after six weeks (signed by DeSantis in Florida) passes very well in North Dakota or Alabama. But in a swing state, it could become a sinking ball. »

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