Biden Allies Prefer Run vs. Ron DeSantis Than Donald Trump – Rolling Stone

biden trump desantis

Ron DeSantis has centered his presidential campaign around the idea that he, and not Donald Trump, is the Republican candidate who can beat Joe Biden. That’s why Democrats have “picked” Trump as their preferred candidate.

Unfortunately for the Florida governor, Biden’s team is now saying the exact opposite.

Some of Biden’s closest confidants have in recent weeks told the president that DeSantis has performed so poorly in the primary, that the governor would likely be notably weaker than the twice-indicted Trump in a match-up against Biden, two sources familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone. Biden has at times agreed with this premise in private conversations.

It wasn’t always this way. As recently as late last year, there was a widespread feeling among Team Biden and prominent Democrats that the governor was the more formidable candidate than the twice-impeached former president. But the more they’ve seen of DeSantis running a presidential campaign, the less concerned they’ve become about whether he can be beaten.

“I guess I could explain to you the … current position by asking a question: ‘Have you seen what Ron DeSantis has been up to lately?’” says one senior Biden administration official who has known the president for years. The sources note that there has been a dramatic increase in the past two months within Biden’s administration and campaign of officials who now view DeSantis as clearly the less intimidating GOP candidate.

The Biden campaign declined to comment. The DeSantis campaign did not respond to Rolling Stone. Jess Szymanski, a spokesperson for the DeSantis-backing super PAC Never Back Down, says in a statement: “Donald Trump has the highest unfavorables in presidential politics. The only person excited about a Trump-Biden rematch is Joe Biden because he won’t be out of a job. The more Biden’s camp and the Left continue to push negative attacks on Gov. DeSantis the clearer it becomes who they see as a threat. The Left knows DeSantis would beat Biden and Biden would beat Trump, which is why they’ll do anything they can to prop up Donald Trump.”

It has been a brutal stretch for DeSantis’ young primary campaign. His campaign is shedding money and staff, his Covid-era messaging isn’t resonating, and a member of his team made headlines for sharing a video featuring Nazi imagery. (That staffer was among those fired.)

Among Democrats, it’s not just much of Biden’s team that has reassessed DeSantis’ and Trump’s relative strength in a general election. This report is based on conversations with nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill, current and former Biden officials, Democratic National Committee sources, and other liberal activists and leaders, including ones living and working in critical swing states.

Prior to two months ago, few of these officials would have preferred DeSantis to be Republicans’ 2024 candidate. Today, nearly all of them do.

For example, three Democratic lawmakers who spoke to Rolling Stone each believed early this year that Trump would be the most beatable for Biden. Now, all three say they would rather have DeSantis as the nominee, if the 2024 general election were held today.

Beyond these three, another Democratic politician who isn’t sweating DeSantis nowadays is Sen. John Fetterman from Pennsylvania. According to a senior Fetterman aide, the senator is predicting Biden will win reelection, but he now believes that Trump is the only candidate in the entire 2024 GOP primary field who can compete — particularly in Pennsylvania. Privately, the aide says, Fetterman has referred to DeSantis recently as “Scott Walker 2.0” and says he doesn’t think DeSantis is even competitive in Pennsylvania in a primary. 

“Fighting Mickey Mouse doesn’t play in PA,” Fetterman has quipped, according to the aide.

Fetterman says Trump, in contrast, is a candidate to be taken seriously in Pennsylvania, and that anyone who doesn’t is simply being too arrogant.

It is early in the primary, and Team DeSantis this month promised supporters a substantial “reboot” that they claim will lead to their candidate finally being able to best Trump, in time for when the voting actually begins. But he has a lot of ground to make up. A recent crop of polls from early primary states brought grim tidings for the Florida governor: In Iowa, 46 percent of Republican voters backed Trump, compared to just 16 percent lining up behind DeSantis, per a new Fox Business poll. DeSantis places a distant second in New Hampshire too, where he trails Trump by 27 points. The news is even worse in South Carolina, where DeSantis is in third place, behind Trump and former governor Nikki Haley. 

The national picture is not much rosier: As of Thursday, Trump has a 35-point advantage over DeSantis in the Real Clear Politics average. According to a Harvard-Harris survey released this week, DeSantis trails Trump by 40 points, and polls only two points higher than political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy. Two other recent polls — from Morning Consult and Monmouth University — found Trump leading DeSantis by 43 and 32 points, respectively.

“Because of the 2022 elections, a lot of Republicans got the impression he was a force of nature. But what’s happened since November is he’s proven to be terrible at this. Trump does have a connection to a large part of the Republican base that DeSantis can’t seem to pull off,” says James Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist often credited with much of Bill Clinton’s success in the 1992 presidential contest. “And to the extent that people are now saying Trump would be stronger has more to do with the descent of DeSantis, and with the clear indications that Ron is collapsing.”

But underneath the liberal schadenfreude over DeSantis’ ongoing struggles during the primary is a sense of deep unease about the possibility of a 2016 redux, with a vulnerable but still powerful Trump likely lurking around the corner for the general election next year.

“It will be close” if it’s Biden versus Trump once again, predicts a former Biden White House official, citing states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the three that doomed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run and that Biden narrowly won in 2020.

Polling supports that trepidation, with surveys in all three of those swing states showing Trump and Biden close.

“It is hard for me not to imagine things going sideways again [like in 2016]. You do not want to underestimate Donald Trump, ever, in a presidential election,” a current Biden aide says, stressing that they still think Biden is the favorite. “It will very much be [us] holding our breath until after the election [results] next year.”

But with DeSantis, the aide sees a clear line of attack, adding: “DeSantis is just fucking up so much left and right [I could see how] we could ‘Romney’ him in a general.” (Ahead of the 2012 presidential election, President Barack Obama, Biden, and their allies relentlessly campaigned against opponent Mitt Romney as, among other things, a socially maladroit, uncaring Republican.)

Some Democratic operatives say they saw DeSantis’ weakness long before his current, disastrous news cycle. “We’ve done the research, so that gave us an [early] indication of how vulnerable a candidate Ron DeSantis is,” says Pat Dennis, president of the Democratic opposition research organization, American Bridge. “Anyone who thought he’d be a strong candidate clearly just hadn’t seen enough of him. Now we all have. Ron DeSantis comes off as a dangerous, extremist Dwight Schrute in this race — all wound up and self serious, clenching his fists and embarrassing himself — and we need to be extremely careful not to let Donald Trump cast himself as the Jim Halpert — turning to the camera and smiling at how pathetic his nemesis is.”

Joshua Karp, a political consultant who helped prepare both Charlie Crist and Andrew Gillum for their Florida gubernatorial debates against DeSantis, tells Rolling Stone that “those of us who have been working against Ron DeSantis in Florida, know that he’s never been that good at politics, but he’s mostly been in the right place at the right time.”


From Karp’s perspective, “this kind of haphazard, amateurish campaigning literally only ever took a pause for eight weeks in Ron DeSantis’ entire time as governor — and it was the eight weeks where Susie Wiles ran his governor’s race at the end of 2018.”

Wiles was DeSantis’ campaign chairwoman — until the two had a falling out. She is now a top adviser to Trump’s 2024 campaign.

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