Giorgio Viera Agence France-Presse Ron DeSantis, during a press conference after the debate on Wednesday evening, in Miami
The moment passed quickly during the debate of the candidates for the Republican primary which was held Wednesday evening in Florida. But he had everything to be noticed.
In his opening remarks, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took a dig at Donald Trump, absent for the third time from such a meeting, by accusing him of having promised to make the Republican Party “win”, then that since the 2018 mid-term elections, he has only led the conservative political party towards “defeats”.
Several local elections on Tuesday in the United States have also confirmed the strong trend by granting victories to Democrats in several states dominated by Republicans. Example: After supporting Trump in 2020, Ohio voted overwhelmingly to protect abortion rights in its constitution. A snub for the Republicans.
And the attacks targeting Donald Trump continued…
“He should explain why he didn’t ask Mexico to pay for the border wall,” DeSantis said. “He should explain why he has accumulated so much debt. He should explain why he didn’t drain the swamp.” This is the metaphor that the populist ex-president has used since 2016 to illustrate his sick fight against the political elite in Washington.
Last week, the governor of Florida set the table by wondering in barely veiled words and in somewhat vulgar terms whether the ex-president had “the balls” to appear in the debate. A changing tone for the governor of Florida who, after months of dodging frontal attacks, now seems determined to cross swords a little more, to bring his own campaign out of a certain torpor.
But the strategy may seem a little late, less than three months before the first electoral deadline of this primary in Iowa, next January, and while the ex-reality TV star still leads in the polls, despite the numerous affairs legal issues in which he became entangled.
“The criticism of Donald Trump has been slow to come out [among the Republican candidates in the race], but in reality, it is not too late at all, assures in an interview with DevoirKathleen Kendall, professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland. What is important is not the national polls, but the actual vote that will be expressed in the first primaries and during the Iowa caucuses. The result of these first primaries has a real power of influence on the public's perception of the candidates. And that's why you see DeSantis, like others, campaigning more fiercely as these primaries approach, to change the feeling of inevitability around the nomination of Donald Trump.
For several weeks, Ron DeSantis, presented when he entered the race as one of Donald Trump's most serious rivals, has sought to be more biting against the leader in the race, as he did in early October during a political rally in Des Moines, reported the New York Times. “So I can tell you: not only will I keep my promises as president, but I will also keep the ones that Donald Trump [did not keep],” he said, presenting his plan to finance his wall of his own on the border with Mexico. A targeted attack on a promising theme in the Republican and conservative camp – immigration and the fear of the other – which however fails to mention the risk that the ex-president would pose over American democracy or even the problems that 'he could hang around in a presidential campaign, due to the lawsuits he faces.
“The opponents of Donald Trump must find ways to disqualify him lightly without attacking the very strong points of identification that many members of the Republican Party have with him,” summarizes Travis Ridout, director of the School in politics, philosophy and public affairs at Washington State University, contacted by Le Devoir. Trump represents a “we” to many Republicans and an attack on Trump is an attack on their identity.”
The former candidate in this race, former Texas congressman Will Hurd, paid the price during his short-lived campaign, being booed by Republicans in Iowa at the end of September. He had dared to speak about the indictments handed down by the American justice system against Donald Trump.
“The ex-president has very effectively provided his supporters with a very compelling, if completely false, narrative to explain why he is no longer president and to characterize all his legal battles as a politically motivated witch hunt, said in an interview with Devoir Benjamin Toff, professor of journalism and specialist in political communication at the University of Minnesota. Criticizing the former president comes with a risk: that of alienating a large number of these voters, a base that all candidates will ultimately need to win the primary.”
Ron DeSantis' late attacks are therefore likely to remain localized and timid, according to a recent memo revealed by the Washington Post and coming from the group Win It Back, a club of Republican voters involved in the campaign. It was about the effectiveness of their ads attacking Donald Trump and aiming to favor another candidate. “Every traditional format ad attacking President Trump either benefited him or had no impact on his support,” the document summarizes. The group spent US$6 million to denigrate the ex-president in Iowa and South Carolina. Worse, a pandemic-themed ad tested on the electorate in Iowa “produced a backlash” by “improving support for voting intentions for President Trump by four points,” he adds.
At the end of September, another group of Republicans seeking to avoid Trump's candidacy, the Lincoln Project, launched an ad after the previous debate to announce that the party's primary was finally already “over.” “It’s a foregone conclusion,” the organization said. “Trump will be the party’s candidate.”
A fatalistic vision which is however not shared by Benjamin Toff. “It’s still possible to see an alternative candidate emerge,” he says. But for that to happen, it will be necessary for many to stop trying to survive their campaign and make a significant change to give themselves an opening,” he concludes. A change of which DeSantis' frontal attacks against Trump can be part of.