Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has only been an official presidential candidate for a month, and he’s already fucking up pretty badly in New Hampshire. He lashed out at a reporter during his first visit; he’s trying to hide his abysmal abortion views; he pissed off a conservative women’s group; and, perhaps as a result, his state poll numbers are tanking.
It’s a big problem for DeSantis that things aren’t going well: New Hampshire is the first primary in the country after the Iowa caucuses, and, realistically, DeSantis needs to win at least one of those states to prove he has any shot at taking down Donald Trump. Plus, if DeSantis were to win Iowa only to lose New Hampshire, it would affect his momentum.
Let’s explore his various stumbles. DeSantis has stopped mentioning the six-week abortion ban he signed when he delivers his stump speech in the New England state. That’s probably because 71 percent of New Hampshire voters identify as pro-choice, and the state’s Republican governor, who supports abortion rights, has been reelected three times. In trying to obscure his record on abortion, DeSantis is slyly acknowledging that Libertarian-leaning New Hampshire voters have very different priorities than those in Evangelical-heavy Iowa. (Fellow candidate Nikki Haley learned this the hard way last month when she trotted out her transphobic one-liner about Bud Light and Dylan Mulvaney in front of a crowd of “polite businessmen and nonprofit people” and it utterly bombed.)
But former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who came in second in New Hampshire in the 2016 primary, said it’s risky for DeSantis to try to use one message in Iowa and another in New Hampshire. “Your message will probably resonate someplace better than in others. But if you’re trying to figure out, ‘Well, how do I take the message, and change this one, and try to use that one?’—to me, it’s not worth it,” Kasich told NBC News.
DeSantis is also pissing off conservative activists, who are key to victory in the Granite State. Politico reported that his campaign scheduled an event at the same time as the annual fundraising lunch for the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women—a sold-out event in a different part of the state headlined by Trump himself. The group reportedly asked DeSantis to reschedule and he didn’t; the Federation of Republican Women slammed him in a public statement on Thursday.
One anonymous adviser for a rival campaign told Politico: “If there’s one thing you don’t do in New Hampshire, it’s piss off the grassroots women. Don’t mess with them, they remember everything. Rookie move.” New Hampshire-based Republican strategist Mike Dennehy said it was “the worst strategic move he has exhibited thus far. It’s just stupid, actually.” Dennehy added, “If he doesn’t turn it around, it could be death by a thousand cuts.”
And would you look at that: New polling released Tuesday showed DeSantis was down 10 points since March. Republican primary voters prefer Trump (47 percent) with DeSantis trailing him by almost 30 points (19 percent). But back in January, according to one poll, DeSantis actually led Trump by 12 points.
It’s plausible that things would all look very different if DeSantis had declared his candidacy earlier in the year when he was still basking in the glow of his reelection win, but the man doesn’t seem very smart or strategic, does he?