In 1945, novelist Raymond Chandler described the ideal man as “the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.” In the context of politics, of course, such a litmus test is not one of moral goodness but strategic goodness: the American electoral system demands that a successful presidential candidate must not only be the best candidate to their own base, their world, in a party primary, but also be good enough to pull success in a general election. Perhaps this primary system was once a test of the ideological makeup of the party, but no more—it’s all about brand warfare now, and the GOP is no exception as voters prepare to decide who’s carrying the Republican brand into the future.
Let’s take a serious look at where the country stands right now. Biden announced his re-election bid a month ago, promising to “finish the job.” However, Joe Biden is the president of a country that increasingly rejects him. Biden’s approval rating has not risen above 50 percent since August 2021, while 71 percent of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track.
While both sides of the aisle can lament the increasing polarization of the country, in the world of elections, that sentiment reliably gets channeled at the incumbent president. Biden’s performance leaves him vulnerable to a serious challenger from the right. And that’s where we are right now. The GOP is entering a time for choosing—not for what the party is, but for who’s going to carry the standard. As of today, the party has two real options: Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, and it’s time to look at the practical side of how this could all shake out.
DeSantis’ strategy in 2023 is largely not to determine the nature of the Republican Party—such a task is bigger than any one man. His job, right now, is to prove to a sufficient coalition of Republican voters that he’s politically savvy enough to pull off a win against Democrats in 2024. On the messaging front, he certainly has the skills for it—you don’t pull off a landslide victory and a massive voter registration drive without a good grasp of political communications, and the team he has hired for his presidential run is filled with experienced strategists. To a GOP that’s fired up about messages of anti-wokeness and sympathetic to a results-centric campaign, DeSantis is a completely viable choice. He has the messaging chops to speak to a massive swath of voters who think America’s on the wrong track.
Right now, however, he needs to convince his own party that his track is the better one. And that’s his first job—mounting a successful challenge to a loud, unorthodox opponent with a truly diehard fanbase. Yet that job, while difficult, is by no means impossible.
When Trump descended the elevator in 2015, one of his major selling points was the fact that he was a political unknown—he might have been a strange creature, but he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. This nose-plugging voting strategy worked in 2016, stopped working in 2020, and his status as an unknown is completely gone now. We know who and what Trump cares about; he makes it abundantly clear with every Truth Social post. Vote for Trump in 2024? You know exactly what you’re getting, and you’re either on board with or have made peace with it. He is in this race to settle grievances and run the clock out on election fraud issues: this is a him-centric campaign, and there’s no getting around that—and if you think that this is coming from a place of heroism and altruism, then I’ve got some Trump NFTs to sell you.
DeSantis has to convince the GOP that he can deliver results without the drama. The GOP’s drift away from Tea Party-era conservatism is a done deal. The brand is locked in. This primary is about who can carry that brand forward. Given that, DeSantis’ messaging is likely going to focus on Trump’s repeatedly inability to win increasing general support for that brand.
Can he beat Trump? It’s a Herculean task—playing Trump at the politics game is a realm few GOP hopefuls have been willing/able to step into, but someone is going to have to highlight that weakness for any shot at getting Trump to fall. Right now, no one can survive that game except DeSantis. If the GOP wants a politically savvy candidate with serious messaging skills and the ability to talk to the entire country about the issues, DeSantis is the tactical choice.
Is it possible that Trump stomps DeSantis in the primary and ekes out a general win over a severely weakened Biden? Certainly. But it’s hardly a settled outcome, and Trump is by no means a bulletproof candidate. The GOP has a candidate with serious, scalable potential in Ron DeSantis—it ignores such potential at its own peril.
There are two choices as to who’s coming out on top in this primary, and the outcome determines what the 2024 election looks like. If Trump wins the primary, his performance in the general election is a referendum on Trump. If DeSantis wins the primary, his performance in the general election is a referendum on the GOP as a whole. Nominating DeSantis is a chance to see how Americans truly feel about the GOP’s brand, as opposed to further annoying Americans sick of choosing which senior citizen should fill the highest office in the land. It’s an uphill battle, to be sure. But it has the potential to be a battle that actually leads somewhere—for GOP voters, that might be enough.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.