Why DeSantis Lost

By Dick Morris on January 22, 2024

Bad Political Advice, Hesitancy Brought DeSantis Loss…

Mitt Romney and Ron DeSantis both lost for the same reason: They each waited too long to answer the negatives being thrown at them by their opponents.

Romney had every chance to defeat Obama during the spring of 2012, but blew it just the way DeSantis blew his chances in the winter months of 2023.

Obama and Trump both attacked their opponents in 2012 and 2023. Neither Romney nor DeSantis answered the charges until it was too late and both paid for their tardiness with defeat.

Early in 2023, DeSantis had very good momentum, coming off his re-election victory in Florida in November of ’22 amid the debacle of the failed Republican Senate campaign in Pennsylvania. Indeed, a CNN survey on March 8, 2023 showed the Florida governor two points ahead of Trump among Republican primary voters.

But the moment passed and Trump began to pummel DeSantis over his support for raising the Social Security retirement age and lowering the cost of living adjustment.

By April 15th Trump regained his lead, defeating DeSantis in the Republican primary by 46-31 in an NBC poll. By May 18, the Quinnipiac Poll had Trump ahead by 56-25 and he stayed ahead, clobbering DeSantis, lengthening his lead until the Harvard-Harris poll of November 15 had him ahead by 67-9.

Meanwhile, DeSantis, in one of the biggest blunders in political history not only failed to answer the social security attack, but did not advertise all until he finally announced his candidacy on May 24, 2023. Way too late.

Why the blunder? Florida has historically had a “resign to run” law that barred state elected officials from running for other offices unless they first resigned the one they held.

While Desantis took care to repeal the law before he ran, the taint against campaigning for another job without quitting the first one scared the Florida governor into silence. He also pleaded that he was so busy during the Florida legislative session that he had no time to campaign.

He paid dearly for this misjudgment and, by the time he was finally ready to report for duty in his campaign, Trump had already locked it up.

Romney fell victim to a similar pattern of events.

Obama hit Romney in the winter and spring of 2012 with the charge that he was what Obama called “a vulture capitalist” citing his record of acquiring companies and then selling off their assets.

Complaisant to the core and mesmerized by the then prevailing Republican tactical doctrine of never answering a negative because it would put your candidate on the defensive, the Romney campaign did not respond to the attack.

They had a perfectly good ad in the can (produced by Stuart Stevens) that I watched with my good friend, the late Pat Caddell. The ad highlighted how Romney had rescued a company that he acquired by changing their product line to accommodate the market and saved hundreds of jobs.

It would have blunted the Obama attack, but the campaign never ran the ad.

So there was never a president Romney and never will be a president Desantis. But plenty of wrong-headed political consultants are still counting the money they made from their bad advice.

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