Florida governor Ron DeSantis made headlines for agreeing to campaign for Republican candidates, including some controversial ones whom the Republican establishment has abandoned – Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, Arizona senatorial nominee Blake Masters, and Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake. Perhaps DeSantis is campaigning for these candidates to build support for his likely 2024 presidential bid. Even if that’s the case, DeSantis’s campaign efforts could help the Republican Party in 2022 and beyond.
Lake and Mastriano matter because Arizona and Pennsylvania will be swing states in 2024. Much of the 2020 voting disputes occurred in states with Democratic governors. Lake and Mastriano are the only people standing between Democratic control of the governorships of Arizona and Pennsylvania. If Masters wins his Senate race in Arizona, it would be hard to imagine Democrats holding onto control of the chamber. And the 2024 Senate map looks very promising for Republicans.
Only in recent years have major parties run candidates with good chances of winning their races but whom many leaders in the party refuse to support. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has already endorsed Lake, Mastriano, and Masters, and helped them get their nominations. Trump still stands strong in the 2024 Republican presidential primary polls, at 51 percent support, giving him about a 28 percent lead over his nearest competitor, DeSantis.
But Trump’s standing among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents is diminished. If a portion of the 49 percent of Republicans who do not want Trump for president also feel skeptical about candidates like Lake, they will need some more convincing to vote for these Trump-like candidates. This is where DeSantis’s endorsements matter.
While DeSantis and Trump account for the choices of about 75 percent of the GOP electorate, Senator Ted Cruz, former Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, and a few others account for the other 25 percent. Some of these politicians represent radically different wings of the GOP than DeSantis or Trump – so the Trump-like candidates might need some of the other potential 2024 candidates to endorse them more than they need support from DeSantis or Trump.
Many Republicans are feeling confident about 2024, given that President Joe Biden’s reelection chances (if he runs) don’t look particularly good. But win or lose, Biden has two years left in his term, so how Republicans perform in the 2022 midterms will determine how much of his agenda they can block. Moreover, the midterm results could set the stage for a Republican presidential candidacy and administration. In the last few cycles, politicians on both sides have forgotten that. Ron DeSantis has not, and this likely bodes well for his future ambitions.
Todd Carney is a lawyer and frequent contributor to RealClearPolitics. He earned his juris doctorate from Harvard Law School. The views in this piece are his alone and do not reflect the views of his employer.