US election 2024: Where did it all go wrong for Ron DeSantis?

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In May of last year, Ron DeSantis projected an image of confidence in the video that marked the beginning of his presidential campaign.

Walking across a stage adorned with flags to the cheers of supporters, he pledged “the Great American Comeback.”

However, after seven months, the man some dubbed “Trump 2.0” and “Trump without the baggage” has decided to abandon his White House bid.

His acknowledgment of the absence of a “clear path to victory” against the dominant frontrunner for the Republican nomination marked the end of his White House aspirations.

Once considered a political sensation for his stance against “woke ideology” and a strong track record as Florida governor, DeSantis faced challenges in both his personal appeal, perceived as lacking charisma and voter awkwardness, and the execution of his campaign.

However, the primary factor behind his downfall was the formidable opponent he faced – Donald Trump.

DeSantis struggled to contend with a figure who maintained steadfast support from his followers, noted Matthew Bartlett, a Republican strategist based in New Hampshire.

Trump, having been the political and, perhaps, personal identity of his supporters for a significant period, posed a formidable challenge for any contender.

Reflecting on the campaign, experts identified problems with the candidate himself, such as a perceived lack of charisma and awkwardness with voters, as well as issues with the campaign he ran.

However, the real reason for his downfall was simply the man he was up against, Donald Trump.

“He [Trump] has been their political identity, and maybe even personal identity, for the better part of a decade,” said Matthew Bartlett.

Looking back at the campaign, experts said it was an almost impossible election cycle for a relative newcomer to the national stage.

Mr DeSantis was essentially running against an incumbent, with name recognition, limitless money, and a committed base of voters.

A year ago, when the marathon race for the White House was already underway, it did not feel quite like that.

Mr DeSantis started 2023 as a very real threat to Donald Trump.

Back then, when only the former president had announced he was running, Mr DeSantis was at around 35% in the polls, within striking distance of his rival.

He also had momentum after a record re-election victory as Florida governor the previous November.

Mr Trump, in contrast, was being blamed by many for the Republicans’ disappointing midterm results.

Yet that turned out to be the high water mark for the DeSantis campaign.

By May, when the governor formally announced his run for the White House in an interview with Elon Musk plagued by tech issues, his poll numbers had slumped closer to 20%.

Mr Trump had soared back above 50%.

Strategists say the decision to delay the official launch wasted precious months.

More importantly, it gave Mr Trump a chance to rebuild his image as a political outsider with the help of the national headlines that surrounded his numerous legal issues.

“[The DeSantis campaign] started pretty late, [and] raised a ton of money obviously,” David Kochel, a long-time Iowa Republican strategist, told the BBC.

“But by then Trump was going at him hammer and tong. I don’t know that they had effective responses. I think it took them a while to engage.”

While Mr DeSantis may have privately hoped for the former president’s legal troubles to catch up with him, he never criticised Mr Trump for them and instead often echoed his rival’s claims that he was being unfairly targeted.

“It seems like every time [Mr Trump] was indicted, his poll numbers went up,” said Timothy Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa.

“And to some extent, that’s not surprising, because it’s kind of a ‘rally around the chief effect’.”

At first, DeSantis used a strategy of trying not to offend Mr Trump but the former president showed no such restraint, often resorting to nicknames including “Meatball Ron” and “Ron DeSanctimonious”.

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