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Heating Up: DeSantis, Trump Spar Over GOP 'Culture of Losing'

AP Photo/Jill Colvin

Over the weekend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had the stage to himself in Iowa, following the Trump campaign's cancelation of a rally, citing potential weather issues.  In one of his speeches to Hawkeye State voters, DeSantis called out the GOP's "culture of losing," over recent election cycles, arguing that "the time for excuses is over."  The remarks raised eyebrows.

He was asked about those comments in Florida this week, and doubled down:

Former President Trump, the current GOP frontrunner, responded to DeSantis' critique -- which seems to have been at least partially directed at him:

Any number of different responses to Trump's comments come to mind: First, Trump is heavily caught up in the past, and not just when he's asked about his 2020 loss, the capitol riot, etc.  He and his campaign are proactively signaling solidarity with January 6th defendants (including some who are accused of violently assaulting police officers, or have pleaded guilty) at rallies.  Some of the hardcore base may be sympathetic to that, but it's the sort of thing that will not win back a single independent or swing voter, and could very well repel others.  Secondly, Trump's self-serving midterms scoreboard doesn't capture the significance of key winnable races, especially in statewide contests, that were lost by candidates he recruited or endorsed.  The 'Trump factor' underperformance in 2022, on the heels of Trump losing to Joe Biden, is quantifiable:

[Republicans] were supposed to dominate the midterm elections — but fell well short. Mr. Trump appears to be a significant reason for that showing, based on an analysis of the results by House district. His preferred candidates underperformed...helping Democrats hold the Senate and helping keep the race for House control close. Overall, his preferred primary candidates underperformed other G.O.P. candidates by about five percentage points...The analysis is based on an unusual measure: The Cook Political Report’s primary scoreboard. The Cook report scored each contested Republican primary as a victory for either the “traditional” wing of the Republican Party or for the “MAGA” wing of the party. With the benefit of the final results, we can gauge how well the MAGA candidates fared compared with other Republicans. The five-point penalty measure controls for how the district voted in 2020 and whether the district was an open seat or held by a Democratic or Republican incumbent. Here’s another way to think about it: Non-MAGA Republicans in 2022 ran six points better than Mr. Trump did in 2020; the MAGA Republicans barely fared better than him at all.

The victories Trump boasts about include many 'safe' Republicans in deep red districts and states.  Those stats also presumably include DeSantis himself, whom Trump half-heartedly endorsed at the 11th hour, while simultaneously publicly undermining the Florida governor just before Election Day.  They also include a candidate like Katie Britt, now an Alabama Senator, who Trump "endorsed" only after his original endorsed candidate in the race was crashing and burning.  It's undeniable that Trump maintains a large amount of sway in GOP primaries.  Picking winners in crucial races in purple areas is a different story.  Finally, Trump's claim that DeSantis is "not a winner" surely isn't a reference to 2022, based on the striking and historic results last November.  It's likely a stuck-in-the-past reference to a primary election half a decade ago.  In an interview with the Florida Governor this week, I asked him about the 'culture of losing' theme, as well as Trump's reply:

The full interview, which also covered the Sunshine State's legislative session, the Disney battle, and more, is available here:

I'll leave you with a battle over endorsements that's ramping up ahead of DeSantis' expected-to-imminent presidential announcement. As we mentioned earlier in the week, a DeSantis-aligned SuperPAC rolled out dozens of legislative endorsements in Iowa, including the leaders of both chambers in Des Moines. Trump's team also put out a longer list of endorsements, including activists and grassroots leaders, some of whom have subsequently said they weren't consulted before being publicly showcased as supporters. Team DeSantis is also making moves on this front in New Hampshire -- and, of course, Florida:


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