Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida formally announced his candidacy for the presidency on Wednesday. Most press accounts deemed it a disaster, plagued by technical problems that ultimately left DeSantis with a much smaller audience than he probably expected. And despite the long-anticipated announcement, DeSantis remains way behind the GOP frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, in primary polls, but he still is the only Republican candidate besides Trump who enjoys double-digit support.

As the first out the gate, Trump has officially been campaigning since November. Although he enjoyed a big head start, Trump demonstrated his own flaws during a recent nationally televised CNN town hall. He was his typical irascible self as he focused on setting old scores instead of offering anything new to justify a second term.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an Iowa GOP reception on May 13, 2023 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

With much of the spotlight still on Trump, the GOP needs a new face to deny President Joe Biden reelection. Right now, DeSantis is the party’s best hope to stop the “former guy” from leading Republicans to ruin.

But the exploratory phase of the governor’s campaign has exposed the flaws in his candidacy.

The dilemma for all the GOP presidential contenders is how to beat the frontrunner, Trump, who is wildly popular with the GOP primary electorate. DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who also announced his campaign for the Republican nomination this week, have tiptoed around their differences with Trump, if there are any. But they can’t beat Trump without taking him on directly. And if they — or other candidates — do truly challenge Trump to win the primary fight this year, they run the risk of defusing the Trump base in the fight against Biden next year.

A president punches up and not down. While DeSantis appears hesitant to take on Trump, the governor has been eager to challenge the House of Mouse in an ongoing battle with Disney spanning gay rightstax status and billion-dollar investments. Jokes about running a “Mickey Mouse” presidential campaign aside, he seems obsessed with Disney to a point that surpasses the interest that my children had in Disney characters growing up.

The world is burning literally and figuratively, but DeSantis apparently fears that “woke” cartoon characters or amusement park policies are a clear and present danger to America. 

DeSantis has attacked Disney legally, financially and politically. Recently the company retaliated by canceling a billion-dollar office development in Orlando that would have created jobs for thousands of Floridians. The economy is a much more important issue for Americans than “wokeness,” in fact, the economy is their top concern.

Thus, DeSantis may have just shot himself in the foot. It seems Mickey Mouse packs a more powerful punch than the governor imagined. So, imagine what Russian President Vladimir Putin could do to him.

Ignoring the economy is not the only issue. If Republicans should have learned anything from their failures in the 2022 midterm elections, it would be how disastrous their hardline stance on abortion was with voters. The party was cruising toward an anticipated epic midterm win until the Supreme Court overturned federal abortion rights and allowed severe limits on abortion imposed by GOP governors and legislatures in red states. It was all downhill from there for the party.

National exit polls indicated that abortion was almost as key to voting decisions as inflation. Americans concerned about the dreaded Dobbs abortion decision overwhelmingly voted Democratic. In Pennsylvania, which is Biden’s birthplace and a swing state in presidential elections, concern about abortion limits surpassed worries about inflation and contributed to wins by Democratic candidates Sen. John Fetterman and Gov. Josh Shapiro.

Fools tread where the wise refuse to go. DeSantis recently signed legislation in Florida that would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The governor has featured this legislation in his budding campaign for president. This rhetoric may appeal to some GOP activists, but when the party seeks limits on abortion in every state across the country, GOP candidates will send a message that tells most voters that they don’t care about Americans’ personal beliefs and convictions.

First impressions count. As the presidential campaign is now heating up, national Republicans should put their best feet forward — but DeSantis stumbled out of the block.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He also hosts the “aggressively progressive” political podcast, “Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon.”

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