Churchillian it wasn’t – this was surrender
He’ll fight them on the seas and oceans, he’ll fight them on the beaches… Ron DeSantis just won’t fight them in New Hampshire.
The Florida governor is fond of quoting Winston Churchill in a set-piece speech and he did it again in the social media address that announced the suspension of his campaign.
Two days before the New Hampshire primary, Churchillian it wasn’t – this was surrender.
And yet, there was a time when he was the Republican hot ticket, Donald Trump’s biggest danger. Like others before him, and around him, DeSantis couldn’t live with the party’s big beast. There is space on the Trump wing of the party only for the man himself.
The hard-right culture wars strategy didn’t resonate with the wider audience and neither did the anti-woke warrior himself. Politics in the United States is partly performance art and Ron DeSantis is no performer.
For an experienced political player and successful Florida governor, he was curiously undercooked at the bigger table. America’s most promising politician became its most awkward when the cameras were turned on – nor does he “do” people. A DeSantis meet and greet always looked more greet than meet.
He spoke of the folly of asking for donations without a “clear path” to success. Equally, donors would have seen the folly of backing a loser. Tens of millions of dollars had been thrown at his campaign ahead of the Iowa caucus – it was a first test of voter opinion and the numbers for DeSantis didn’t represent a good investment.
For all that, he’ll be back. In stepping down, he trailed as much by endorsing Trump and his politics, bridge-building to the man and his base, surely with 2028 in mind.
The more immediate question is how the DeSantis vote decants into the primary process he leaves behind. It should cut two ways – he occupies a space on the Republican right and so Trump will feel some benefit, endorsement or not.
Nikki Haley needs the numbers most. A CNN poll two days before the New Hampshire primary had her 11 percentage points behind Donald Trump. She has always styled this as a two person contest and now benefits from being the sole contender for the “Trump alternative” vote. In Iowa, Donald Trump enjoyed a double triumph – the victory itself and the fact that 49% of voters who didn’t back him were being fought over by his two rivals. No more.
The contests to come will provide the accurate measure of who gains. For this race to last, it has to be Haley in New Hampshire. In the Granite state, common consensus has it that she has to pass the momentum test. Realistically that means victory, otherwise she’ll be left contemplating a path less clear.
Ron DeSantis knows the feeling.