Mark Leibovich concedes that it’s an open question, but suggests the odds of the latter are higher than the presidential candidate hype cycle is likely to admit of if he actually puts himself under the gun:
The question is whether DeSantis’s presidential hopes will perish as he starts getting out more on the Iowa–New Hampshire dating apps. People who know him better and have watched him longer are skeptical of his ability to take on the former president. DeSantis, they say, is no thoroughbred political athlete. He can be awkward and plodding. And Trump tends to eviscerateguys like that.
“He was standoffish in general,” the Virginia Republican Barbara Comstock, a former House colleague of DeSantis’s, told me.
“A strange no-eye-contact oddball,” Rick Wilson, a Republican media consultant, wrote on Resolute Square.
“I’d rather have teeth pulled without anesthetic than be on a boat with Ron DeSantis,” says Mac Stipanovich, a Tallahassee lobbyist who set sail from the GOP over his revulsion for Trump and his knockoffs. To sum up: DeSantis is not a fun and convivial dude. He prefers to keep his earbuds in. His “Step away from the vehicle” vibes are strong.
To stipulate: None of this is necessarily disqualifying.
On the contrary, it could lend DeSantis credibility as an outsider irritant. He is not just another smoothie politician, not part of the “establishment.” Since Trump descended his escalator and dragged the GOP down with him, the party has shown a persistent tolerance, even inclination, for churlish bastards—just as long as they are churlish toward the right rascals, reprobates, and agents of wokeness. DeSantis has a Trumpian proficiency for identifying these. If that leads to cruel treatment of vulnerable populations (refugees, gay and transgender teens), even better.
But no shortage of alleged heavyweights have entered previous primary races only to reveal themselves as decidedly not ready for prime time, or even late-night C-SPAN. Political handicappers and fundraisers overhype them. Expectations create a cryptolike bubble. Then they finally show up and fail to dazzle. The gloss fades fast. You can ask President Beto O’Rourke about this.
Admittedly, if there’s an example of a former popular Republican governor the Republican establishment strongly prefers to Trump humiliatingly crashing and burning in a Republican primary against him, I cannot think of it right now. Please clap!
In all seriousness, DeSantis has a more credible chance than Jeb! — he has the instinct to appeal to the cruelty of the Republican base that is so crucial to Trump’s capture of the party. But I think the smart money remains on Trump until we see otherwise.