Questions surrounding Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) presidential campaign strategy are multiplying as he continues to trail former President Trump in the polls nearly a month after his highly anticipated campaign launch.
In a sign of just how concerned some of the governor’s allies are, the spokesperson for the pro-DeSantis PAC Never Back Down recently referred to Trump as the “runaway front-runner” in the primary and said that DeSantis faced an “uphill battle.”
One Republican strategist described the DeSantis PAC spokesperson’s comments as “a very clear-eyed moment.”
“They realize they’re in a hole,” the strategist told The Hill. “They realize they can potentially win this and they are the only other game in town, but again, they are in a big hole.”
The spokesperson, Steve Cortes, made his headline-grabbing comments Sunday during a Twitter Spaces conversation.
“Right now, in national polling, we are way behind. I’ll be the first to admit that,” said Cortes, who previously worked as an adviser to Trump. “I believe in being really blunt and really honest. It’s an uphill battle.”
Cortes emphasized that he still believed DeSantis could win, while also pointing out how Trump’s prior experience could be aiding him.
“The former president has debated through two successive presidential cycles, so of course he possesses a lot of experience in that arena,” he said. “But I am convinced that Governor DeSantis will outperform expectations and inform large audiences about his amazing life, political record, and winning agenda for the presidency.”
“Taking on an incumbent or former president in the primary always represents a significant challenge,” Cortes continued. “I gladly embraced that reality in joining the team. All of us on Team DeSantis remain convinced that the governor has a strong path to the nomination, and the best chance of any Republican to defeat Biden in the general election.”
Polling shows that after his launch in late May, DeSantis has struggled to gain traction in national and early state-level polling.
The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Trump with 52.4 percent support, while DeSantis trails at 21.5 percent support. And an Echelon Insights poll released Wednesday showed fellow Republican contender Vivek Ramaswamy gaining traction on DeSantis. The poll shows Trump leading the pack at 66 percent, DeSantis at 52 percent and Ramaswamy at 40 percent. In May, Echelon showed Ramaswamy in fourth place behind former Vice President Mike Pence.
“Everyone goes, my God, this Vivek guy is not going to win, but he’s the only guy actually pushing the ideas envelope, and the ideas that he’s pushing is actually reinforcing a lot of what Trump is saying,” O’Connell said.
But Trump is still DeSantis’s biggest obstacle.
“I will tell you that Trump is in a much stronger position now than he was in 2016,” O’Connell said. “They recognize that lightning in a bottle is their best chance to win this, so what they need to do is they need to get out there and make sure that everyone knows who Ron is, his biography and what he stands for.”
And DeSantis and his campaign have been focused on getting boots on the ground in the early caucus and primary states, most recently hitting up New Hampshire for the Fourth of July holiday.
“The rain may have been heavy, but the enthusiasm was high,” DeSantis spokesperson Andrew Romeo said in an email to reporters summing up the campaign stops. “Hundreds of Granite Staters turned out to show their support for the governor and his forward-looking vision for a better America.”