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VICTOR JOECKS: What DeSantis needs to do to defeat Trump

If your brand is courage, you can’t shy away from pointing out the front-runner’s flaws. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis must remember that as he enters the presidential contest.

DeSantis is set to formally announce his presidential bid on Wednesday in a Twitter talk with Elon Musk. He’ll enter the race in second place, trailing Donald Trump by 37 points, according to the Real Clear Politics average.

Trump supporters and Trump himself like to promote the idea that DeSantis’ bid is a little more than a vanity run. Don’t buy it. Trump’s Super PAC sure doesn’t. It’s already spent more money attacking DeSantis this year than it spent last year backing Trump’s Senate candidates. Trump may demand loyalty from others, but his tightfistedness is a reminder that it’s a one-way street.

Trump is right to be scared of DeSantis. Here’s DeSantis’s path to victory:

DeSantis starts his campaign with lots of support among Trump voters — just not for 2024. Many would love for him to run in 2028, but feel that Trump needs another term.

That’s why DeSantis must attack Trump from the right. That was difficult to do in 2016. Trump ran on the conservative cultural issues on which party leadership and the grassroots didn’t see eye to eye. Establishment Republicans wanted amnesty. Trump promised to build a wall, which the base loved.

But today, it’s DeSantis who is leading on conservative priorities. That includes policy wins on school choice, illegal immigration and stopping the mutilation of children. It also includes cultural battles. DeSantis is fighting Disney after the company opposed legislation preventing the sexual indoctrination of small children. Trump sided with Disney. DeSantis cheered the conservative boycott against Bud Light. Trump has been uncharacteristically restrained in his comments.

Their respective COVID responses offer another contrast. DeSantis did briefly shutter Florida — on the advice of the Trump administration. But he reopened it shortly thereafter, triggering waves of media criticism. Right before leaving office, however, Trump gave a presidential commendation to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Unlike in 2016, Trump polls best with “very conservative” voters. If DeSantis highlights how he’s more conservative than Trump on many key issues, expect that to change. He must avoid attacking Trump on issues, such as the New York criminal case, where Trump’s voters believe he’s being unjustly targeted.

DeSantis also needs to out-organize Trump. That appears to be happening in Iowa. Expect him to a have a robust operation in many Super Tuesday states. DeSantis has had success convincing some would-be presidential candidates to stay out. Getting Sen. Tim Scott, another newly announced contender and potential DeSantis VP candidate, to aim his fire at Trump would help, too.

Finally, DeSantis must show that the national media want Trump to win the primary. Perhaps the most unifying belief among GOP primary voters is that the national media are hopelessly biased. He’s been tremendous at attacking their skewed coverage previously. DeSantis will benefit if he can frame the primary as a battle between himself and the media pushing Trump.

Never Back Down is the Super PAC supporting DeSantis’ presidential run. For DeSantis to defeat Trump in the primary, he needs to maintain that approach.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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