DeSantis’ Woes Lead To ‘Clown Car Primary’ That Could Help Trump

The Florida governor's dip in public polls "encouraged more people to join the race," Larry Hogan told the Messenger.


As the 2024 presidential primary dawned, Donald Trump’s political team saw Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the only serious threat to his campaign – especially if the race became a two-man contest.

But over the past two months, Trump gained momentum in the polls and DeSantis lost it. And now, as many as a dozen other Republicans are running or talking about it in a way they hadn’t when DeSantis looked as if he had a much better shot at beating Trump - the potential rerun of the 2016 campaign that Team Trump had hoped for all along.

“Most of the candidates and potential candidates believed Gov. DeSantis had weaknesses and could be beaten. The fact that he has fallen in the polls has validated that belief and encouraged more people to get in the race,” former Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan told The Messenger via text message.

Donald Trump introduces Ron DeSantis on November 26, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

For Hogan, the multi-candidate primary was a nightmare scenario he warned against months ago: More candidates would dilute the non-Trump vote and help the former president win the nomination with as little as 30 percent of the vote or so in early primaries.

“I made the decision to not enter the race in order to avoid a multi-car pileup like 2016 that enabled Trump. A lot of folks seem to have made a different calculation,” Hogan said. “Right now, Trump and his campaign are clearly happy to see an increasingly crowded field.”

Trump campaign operatives were overjoyed Friday when South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott became the latest official candidate.

“To say we welcome Tim Scott to the race would do a disservice to the service he’s doing us,” said one Trump confidant, who spoke on condition of anonymity to gloat freely. “Ron is supposed to announce his campaign next week and he’s going to find it’s going to be a lot more crowded than he originally figured.”

Tim Scott speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition Spring Kick-Off on April 22, 2023 in Clive, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Scott is the second South Carolinian to enter the race, behind former Gov. Nikki Haley. They join former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Texas Rev. Ryan Binkley, Michigan businessman Perry Johnson, talk radio host Larry Elder and the former mayor of the Rhode Island city of Cranston, Steve Laffey. Former Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement is imminent and, in recent weeks, former Trump adviser and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Miami Mayor France Suarez and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum have floated their names.

“We have some dark horses in the clown car primary who could shock people, like the governor of North Dakota,” said Dave Carney, a veteran Republican consultant.

“Everyone thought DeSantis was really going to put something together but it’s just been fumbling and bumbling around, and this is what you get,” Carney said. “It’s about math. And too many political people, especially pundits, don’t understand it: Trump is getting about 40% of the vote. That means there’s 60% of the vote left to go. Divide that between two people and it’s manageable. But 10 people against Trump makes the math really difficult.”

In a statement to The Messenger, Hutchinson said he was running against the “failed policies of Joe Biden and the less-than-conservative behavior of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.”

“Our country is looking for a change in leadership,” he said. “The fact that others are considering joining the race means my argument that the current leadership is failing is resonating.”

Another top Republican consultant, who worked on the campaign of a top Trump 2016 rival, summed up the dynamic this way: “DeSantis’s blood in the water is drawing out all the sharks.”

Longtime Trump aide Michael Caputo used a different aquatic metaphor to describe the dynamic of the multi-candidate race.

“Trump originally told everyone: ‘This is my pool. Don’t go in it.’ But they didn’t listen,” he said. “So now he’s telling everyone, ‘get in the pool. The water’s fine.’” 

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