Ron DeSantis’s Reality

The political fortunes of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have reversed over the past six months. After his re-election as Florida’s governor, DeSantis looked like a strong potential presidential candidate while Trump grappled with legal and personal challenges. Now, Trump leads in opinion polling, DeSantis has struggled to solidify his star status and, in some corners, there’s a growing sense that Trump’s nomination for president is inevitable.

I would caution against that feeling, no matter how it looks for Trump at the moment. After months of reporting on the early stages of the 2024 presidential race, I’ve seen how narratives can miss important factors shaping the race. And that is how conventional wisdom starts to take shape in a way that’s divorced from evidence or data. (See: expectations of a Republican wave in last year’s midterm elections.)

DeSantis is expected to formally enter the race as soon as tomorrow. Here are two narratives about his candidacy that could use revising.

Narrative 1: DeSantis is toast.

Reality: There is an opening for a Trump alternative, whether it’s DeSantis or someone else.

Trump’s hold on the Republican electorate has always been tenuous. He has never won the majority of voters in a contested Republican primary. At the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in California this year, one delegate told me that party insiders estimated that about 30 to 35 percent of Republican voters were unshakably with Trump, while another, smaller group was comfortable with him as the nominee while considering other options.

For other candidates, those numbers make up a road map to victory: Consolidate the majority of Republicans who would prefer a different nominee. This group includes factions like the Tea Party conservatives who backed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in the 2016 primary and the business-focused moderates who backed candidates like Gov. John Kasich of Ohio in 2016.

Appealing to them is a difficult task. These groups have historically opposed Trump for different reasons and no candidate has successfully brought them together, but the conditions for an anti-Trump coalition are there.

One route for a candidate like DeSantis or Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who joined the Republican field yesterday, is to win the nomination without crossing Trump. As my colleague Nate Cohn wrote, one strategy for defeating Trump could be to embody his political message without taking him on directly. For some Republicans, this is a welcome direction. My reporting made clear that given the criminal investigations Trump faces, some rivals have banked on him to implode on his own.

However, that strategy is passive, which could play into Trump’s hands. Outside the Manhattan courthouse on the day that Trump was arraigned on fraud charges related to his 2016 campaign, the conservative media provocateur Jack Posobiec said that people close to Trump’s campaign predicted that more indictments would embolden his candidacy, not imperil it. He said they believed Trump would have the opportunity to galvanize voters by painting law enforcement as politically motivated and out to stifle his candidacy.

Posobiec pointed to the news media attention, increased fund-raising and the bump in polling that Trump secured after his indictment.

Narrative 2: DeSantis’s biggest problem is Donald Trump.

Reality: Yes, but he has another problem to confront first.

DeSantis no longer scares away candidates who were once deferential to his status as the front-runner in the Trump-alternative sweepstakes. Last week, several Republican governors made notable moves: Doug Burgum of North Dakota — a former Microsoft executive — made overtures toward joining the 2024 field, and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia released an advertisement linking himself to Ronald Reagan. Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire also said he was thinking about joining the race, days after a report that former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey might join as well.

Those actions show a party unintimidated by DeSantis’s candidacy and are further evidence that his campaign’s first task is not to overtake Trump, but to persuade primary voters and opponents that he is the strongest rival to Trump. At the R.N.C. meeting, a Trump adviser told me that his campaign would love for the field to get to 10 candidates. “More is better for us,” the adviser said, invoking the logic that several candidates polling in single digits would hurt DeSantis’s ability to put together a coalition.

DeSantis’s delicate task was on display two months ago, when he announced an isolationist view on the war in Ukraine, a clear play for Trump’s supporters. DeSantis’s statement drew backlash from commentators and Republican donors, and two other presidential hopefuls — former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and former Vice President Mike Pence — used it to attack him.

Such is the danger of DeSantis’s unique electoral position: As he enters the race as the established Trump alternative, he incurs the ire of other rivals seeking to elevate themselves.

When DeSantis announces his candidacy this week, he will be an underdog, but he is not a long shot. No one who has raised more than $110 million is.

For more

Many voters are dissatisfied with the prospect of another Trump-Biden matchup. Could there be an alternative? Listen to the latest episode of “The Run-Up.”

To lure older voters from Trump, DeSantis promotes his efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs.


War in Ukraine

Russia claimed Bakhmut in the deadliest battle of the war, trading lives and resources for questionable strategic gain.

Drone footage shows what’s left of Bakhmut: scorched buildings, destroyed schools, cratered parks.

These maps track how Russian troops advanced on the city.


Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden met to discuss the debt limit, but remained far apart on a deal. Negotiators are trying to break the standoff through spending caps.

The special counsel investigating the classified documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago has subpoenaed Trump for information on his foreign business dealings.

E. Jean Carroll is seeking additional damages from Trump, claiming he defamed her on CNN a day after he lost her initial defamation case.

TikTok sued to block Montana’s ban of the app, citing the First Amendment.


California, Arizona and Nevada agreed to use less water from the parched Colorado River, reducing the risk that it would run dry.

What is using all the water? It’s less about long showers and more about what’s for dinner, these graphics show.

Other Big Stories

China banned companies that deal with critical information from buying memory chips from a manufacturer based in the U.S., underscoring a technology rift between the countries.

Workers at companies that promote progressive values — including Apple, Starbucks and REI — say executives are targeting union supporters.

Two months after the Nashville school shooting, little is publicly known about the motive. Parents want the shooter’s journals to remain private.

A culture of cover-ups in New York prisons has protected abusive guards from accountability, according to a Marshall Project investigation.

Portuguese police are renewing their search for Madeleine McCann, the girl who has been missing since 2007.

New York City wants to make workplaces more supportive of women going through menopause, following a trend in Britain.


Christian nationalists are trying to hijack Wyoming’s identity, Susan Stubson writes.

The Supreme Court’s legitimacy partly relies on public opinion, so public criticism is a meaningful check on the institution, Stephen Vladeck writes.

Here are columns by David Brooks on the theologian Tim Keller, Michelle Goldberg on medically necessary abortions and Paul Krugman on working from home.


Princess school: European royalty go to a Welsh castle to learn about world peace.

Good night, sweet prince: A.O. Scott explains why Martin Amis deserves a prominent place in the literary canon.

Exoneration: He freed an innocent man from prison. It ruined his life.

Andrew Tate: The self-crowned “king of toxic masculinity” thought he would be above the law in Romania. Then he was arrested.

Laxatives: Are there any natural ways to get things moving? Experts weigh in.

Composting: Save food from going into the landfill with ease.

Advice from Wirecutter: Pack better with compression sacks.

Lives Lived: C. Boyden Gray was White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush and was said to be able to stroll into the Oval Office whenever he liked. He died at 80.


Carmelo Anthony retires: He announced his N.B.A. exit after 19 seasons. One of the best scorers ever, he had a limited role recently.

N.B.A. playoffs: The Denver Nuggets are headed to the N.B.A. finals for the first time after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers.

Real Madrid: Four people were arrested in Madrid after an effigy of Vinicius Jr., the Real Madrid superstar, was hung from bridge. Racist chants could push him to leave the club.


Africa and the future

This year’s edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale, the global architecture exhibition, takes on fraught subjects — race, colonialism, climate change — through the lens of Africa and its diaspora. The result is the most ambitious and pointedly political Biennale in years, the critic Christopher Hawthorne writes in The Times.

More: At the U.S. pavilion, architects consider how to coexist with plastic.


What to Cook

Try these cold noodles with tomatoes as the days get hotter.

Cannes Film Festival

Martin Scorsese screened his new movie, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” featuring Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.


Painting and drawing can improve your mental health.

Now Time to Play

The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were hotline and neolith. Here are today’s puzzle and the Bee Buddy, which helps you find remaining words.

And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow.

Correction: Yesterday’s newsletter included the incorrect puzzle for the day’s Spelling Bee.

Here’s today’s front page.

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