Two Floridians aspiring to the Republican presidential nomination have started to publicly butt heads.
It was only a matter of time.
Former President Donald Trump has been criticizing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis here and there for weeks, calling him “disloyal,” “a flip-flopper” and “an average governor,” while the Governor largely refrained from responding, aside from an interview with Piers Morgan in late March, in which he criticized some aspects of Mr. Trump’s administration.
But now the two campaigns have released dueling attack ads.
In yet another display that nothing you ever do, no matter how small, will be forgotten if you run for office, a pro-Trump PAC released “Pudding Fingers,” comparing an alleged instance in which Governor DeSantis ate pudding with his fingers to comments the Governor made about entitlement programs.
The ad is effective for its gross imagery and simple message. Just as Mr. DeSantis stuck his fingers in pudding where they don’t belong, he will sick them into entitlement programs that Mr. Trump has sworn to protect.
A pro-DeSantis PAC countered with “Fight Democrats, Not Republicans,” questioning why Mr. Trump is attacking the Governor and not Democrats, subtly referencing President Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” of ‘Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.’
The ad advocates for Republican party unity at a moment when that unity has almost but disappeared. It asks a question that many Republican non-Trumpers wonder — what exactly is wrong with Donald Trump? For myself, it’s refreshing because it’s measured rather than hyperbolic.
The ads come when the primary entering its first stages. The data and polling aggregator website FiveThirtyEight released their own Republican Primary Polling Average. As of today, Mr. Trump getting 49.9% and Mr. DeSantis getting 25.3%. Although Mr. DeSantis has yet to formally declare his candidacy, his actions strongly suggest that he’s considering a run.
In a 2019 study, FiveThirtyEight found that from 1972–2016, candidates who averaged 35% or more in polls in the first half of a year before a presidential election won the nomination 75% of the time. Mr. Trump is in a strong place early.
Still, it’s important to note some key differences with the 2024 presidential primary than previous ones. Mr. Trump is the first former or current president to be indicted, with a host of other pending legal issues. The effect that a conviction or convictions would have on the presidential race is unknown. It appears as if Mr. Trump’s first indictment has helped him gain support of some Republican voters while pushing away Independents.
The feud between these two Floridians makes me wonder how would a nasty, bitter primary between them affect the Republicans’ chances to take back the White House in 2024. According to FiveThirtyEight, both match up with President Biden about the same as of today, assuming Mr. Biden is the Democrats’ nominee.
Professors Alexander Fouirnaies of the University of Chicago and Andrew Hall of Stanford University released a study in 2016 entitled “How Divisive Primaries Hurt Parties: Evidence From Near-Runoffs.” In an interview reprinted in the “Not Another Politics Podcast,” Professor Fouirnaies explains the mindset behind the study:
“…the places and times where you observe a very divisive primary, that’s not going to be at random places and random times. So what we decided to do was exploit the institution of run-off elections. So in some states you have this institution that if the front-runner in the primary election doesn’t get more than the same threshold, typically 50%, there’s a second primary election, essentially.
So what we thought was, well, in a way, that’s kind of like you’re intensifying the primary campaign, and you’re prolonging the primary campaign. So, that at least captures some aspects of what we think about when we think about what a divisive primary is.”
By analyzing state legislative and federal congressional elections, Professor Fouirnaies and Professor Hall found that run-offs had little to no effects on state elections but did produce “a drop in vote share of 6–9” on federal elections for the affected party.
Professor Fouirnaies extrapolated these results to a presidential primary:
“…If we believe the pattern to be the same, and this is about salience or information, and then we have the low salience, low information elections, that’s the state-level elections. Then we have the federal elections, congressional elections, that’s the more high salience, and then we have the presidential elections. That’s super high salience, and a lot of information. Then we might think that it actually could potentially hurt the party even more at a presidential level.”
In other words, the effects of a divisive primary increase as the elections increase its salience and information about it increase. Presidential elections are for the most powerful office on the planet and therefore have the most information and importance.
At this juncture, it’s reasonable to conclude that the 2024 Republican nomination for president is Mr. Trump’s to lose. If Mr. DeSantis decides to run, and there is a long, divisive primary, odds are it will weaken whomever wins significantly.
At any rate, the Republican primary is shaping up to be a doozy. Stay sane, and keep your fingers out of your pudding.