From left, Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images; Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images; EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images
- Democrats aren’t settled on which Republican they want Biden to face in 2024.
- They cited pros and cons for him running against Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis.
- Some thought the younger, lesser known DeSantis would be a bigger threat.
Democrats looking ahead to President Joe Biden’s chances in the 2024 presidential election aren’t settled on which Republican opponent they’d rather see him face: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former President Donald Trump.
In interviews with half a dozen Democratic strategists, some cited pros and cons to Biden sharing a debate stage with either of the two GOP frontrunners. Others want a rematch with the legally challenged Trump or say that the younger, lesser-known DeSantis would be a bigger threat to Biden.
“Trump carries so much financial and legal baggage that he would sink from own weight in a race against Biden,” said Democratic pollster and consultant Brad Bannon. “DeSantis has problems, but he’s a fresh face, unmarked by legal issues or personal scandal.”
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said she prefers Trump because Biden beat him in the 2020 presidential election and will “beat him again.”
Trump has proven he could turn out Republican voters and win the presidency, but he’s under indictment and could face even more charges. DeSantis, who is expected to announce his candidacy soon, is 36 years younger than Biden and could be viewed as a Trump alternative that’s more palatable to swing voters. But he’s untested on the national stage and now known for tangling with Disney over culture wars and denying he ate pudding with his fingers.
Some Democrats see either Republican as a challenge.
“There’s a near-50 percent chance that whoever they nominate will win, and both of these guys pose a clear and present danger to American democracy,” said Matt Lehrich, a former Obama White House spokesperson who founded Be Clear Communications. “So, as Democrats, I think we should be focused on what we can control and not on trying to predict the unpredictable.”
The GOP nomination is ‘Trump’s to lose’
Eighteen months ahead of the general election, it’s hard to tell who would be the bigger challenge for Biden. The Republican field is just taking shape, with Trump consistently outpacing DeSantis in polls by high double digits. But hypothetical matchups of Biden with the two Republicans are much closer and generally a tossup.
Absent a drastic shift, the GOP nomination is “Trump’s to lose” and Democrats should plan accordingly, said Josh Schwerin, founder of Saratoga Strategies and former spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. They shouldn’t ignore DeSantis, but they should act as though Trump is the nominee, he said.
“So far, DeSantis doesn’t seem ready for prime time, and Trump is having to answer questions about running a campaign from jail,” Schwerin said. “That said, this will be a tough race no matter who the Republican nominee is, and every Democrat needs to take it extremely seriously.”
Trump may be unpopular with suburban swing voters in battleground states, but he’s proven he can turn out inconsistent Republican voters, “something wannabe mini-Trumps have not been able to replicate,” Lehrich said.
“He’s won a presidential election and nearly won a second, and he has proven himself a unique threat to the Republic, so any Democrat hoping he is the GOP nominee is playing with fire,” he said.
Can DeSantis thrive “outside of his Florida bubble”?
Both Trump and DeSantis have had difficult months.
Trump was arraigned in early April on felony charges of falsifying business records following a probe into 2016 “hush-money” payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during his presidential campaign.
Even so, Florida Republicans continued to endorse Trump as DeSantis visited the nation’s capital. And conservatives piled on DeSantis as he waged war with Walt Disney World that led to the company’s lawsuit against him, alleging he tried to “weaponize government power” over the company.
Another episode in March raised questions about DeSantis’ foreign policy acumen when he was forced to walk back calling Russia’s war in Ukraine a “territorial dispute.”
“Trump has an ability to connect with a certain bloc of voters, and he has a bit of an idiot savant’s sense of what’s popular with normal people,” Lehrich said. “DeSantis lacks all that. Whether it’s getting rope-a-doped by Mickey Mouse or signing a 6-week abortion ban or making weird faces in response to perfectly normal questions, he hasn’t yet proven he has the charisma or political acuity to thrive outside of his Florida bubble.”
Regardless of which nominee Republicans put forward, the presidential election will come down to 100,000 votes in a few key states, said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist, and former Clinton spokesperson. And both DeSantis and Trump are pushing “extreme” agendas to try and “outmaneuver the other one.”
“It’s quite a choice between the two of them,” he said. “It is like asking which is better for your diet — a bowl of ice cream or … a piece of cake. Neither of them are good for you.”