Could Ron DeSantis win the Republican nomination?

Amid plummeting polls the Florida governor has shaken up his campaign team but analysts say his chances remain slim

Donald Trump is greeted by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Support for Ron DeSantis is tailing off nationwide due to his policy positions
(Image credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has replaced his campaign manager as he aims to reset his faltering bid for the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination.

DeSantis’s former top staffer Generra Peck has been shunted to the position of chief strategist, with Flordia chief of staff James Uthmeier assuming the national campaign manager post, according to The Messenger.

The changes come after DeSantis made two big staff cuts in recent weeks due to financial considerations. The Florida governor laid off about a third of his staff in late July.

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Together the moves are an effort to “reset” his “stagnant presidential campaign”, Voice of America said. But however you look at it, the overhaul does not bode well, said The Washington Post’s Philip Bump. “While such moves do not always augur a campaign’s imminent demise, the demise of political campaigns often follow such shake-ups,” Bump said.

Why is DeSantis’s campaign flailing?

Analysts have seen signs that support among Republicans for Ron DeSantis is tailing off nationwide due to the positions he has taken. According to The Guardian, a “growing backlash” has emerged both in Florida and across the country as Republican voters have “recoiled at his extremist positions on slavery, education, abortion and immigration”.

From his prevarication over a new Florida curriculum teaching that forced labour during slavery benefited Black people, to his crackdown on transgender rights, and from his approval of permitless carrying of firearms to his hardline new immigration policies, DeSantis has watched as his views have left his presidential campaign “flailing”, The Guardian said.

According to the political polling website FiveThirtyEight, DeSantis’s average national polling result in the Republican presidential primaries as of 8 August is 15.6%.

DeSantis has long been second in the race behind former president Donald Trump, who is currently averaging 52.4% and maintains a lead in most polls. However, the gap has widened in recent months: DeSantis averaged 23.4% three months ago, and 34.4% six months ago.

What is behind the campaign team overhaul?

In recent weeks Peck has faced increased scrutiny from donors to DeSantis’s campaign, who have complained that the presidential candidate was burning through his funds too quickly and failing to gather support nationwide.

In mid-July, an unnamed DeSantis donor close to the campaign told NBC News that Peck was “hanging by a thread”.

However, DeSantis’s decision to replace Peck with Uthmeier has been seen as a gamble, given the 35-year-old has no previous campaign management experience.

Still, the changes were seen as necessary coming four days after the largest individual donor backing DeSantis told The Telegraph he would not give any more money unless the governor attracts more donors and tones down some of his more hardline positions.

Dan Eberhart, who has previously expressed concern about the campaign’s staffing, told the newspaper: “Governor DeSantis has to change the dynamics. That much is clear.”

Will Trump be knocked out?

Donald Trump’s mounting legal woes add an extra dynamic to DeSantis’s presidential bid. If Trump were found guilty and sent to jail, his position on the Republican ballot could be in jeopardy, opening a clear path for the Florida governor to the Republican nomination.

However, as CBS noted, there is nothing in the constitution that prevents someone who has been charged or convicted from seeking or taking office.

Whether Trump could serve as president from prison is less clear, said UCLA law professor Richard L. Hasen. “How someone would serve as president from prison is a happily untested question,” Hasen told CNN.

The former president’s legal cases have also directly boosted his campaign. In March, Trump had just 43% of the vote in Republican polling, according to a RealClearPolitics average. After he was indicted by a grand jury in New York in connection to a hush money payment to a porn actress his numbers had jumped to 50%.

Two months later, when he was indicted again at a federal level for alleged mishandling of classified documents, his polling average jumped to 55%.

As The Washington Post’s Bump asked: “Many observers thought that the looming indictments of Trump might shake things loose, which hasn’t happened. So what might?”

That question, Bump said, is “now one for James Uthmeier, DeSantis’s new campaign manager. Perhaps he has an answer. Or perhaps there is no answer.”

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Arion McNicoll is a freelance writer at The Week Digital and was previously the UK website’s editor. He has also held senior editorial roles at CNN, The Times and The Sunday Times. Along with his writing work, he co-hosts “Today in History with The Retrospectors”, Rethink Audio’s flagship daily podcast, and is a regular panellist (and occasional stand-in host) on “The Week Unwrapped”. He is also a judge for The Publisher Podcast Awards.