Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is reportedly set to announce his candidacy for president next week. He’s currently trailing Donald Trump by 36.1 percent in RealClearPolitics polling averages, and his setbacks and challenges have been widely discussed. But beyond questions about his heavy-handed policy or supposedly chilly demeanor, he faces a more peculiar problem: The man hasn’t even announced yet and Americans may already be a little sick of him. He’s heading into his campaign announcement overexposed.
A candidate can only enter a race once, so he should do it on his own terms. But whatever the date of DeSantis’s official announcement, that option has been foreclosed to him. He effectively entered the race after his midterm landslide last November. That’s when he became The Only Republican Who Can Beat Trump. This scared the daylights out of liberals because Trump, they feared, was The Only Man Who Could Lose To Joe Biden. So DeSantis began to draw obsessive coverage from a hostile media that put him in the race on their terms.
And the media’s terms are no secret. DeSantis is a threat to the country because he’s a capable far-right Republican who has successfully rolled back progressive initiatives in his home state. And he’s even scarier than Trump because he’s an authoritarian with talent and skill, someone who goes beyond bluster and bends government to his will.
So the press covered DeSantis with a flurry of extravagant misnomers. The “don’t say gay” bill has nothing to do with saying “gay.” His effort to “erase black history,” in fact, restores black history to its prominence in African-American studies. His “book banning” doesn’t empty library shelves of classic works; it removes blatant pornography from children’s schools. These efforts at negative framing worked to some extent in creating a DeSantis avatar for the liberal public to fear.
But that’s not all they did. They set off DeSantis fatigue, even (or especially) among conservatives. For Republican voters, he became the guy you keep hearing about who never shows up—not even to push back on the press mischaracterizations. The stories just lingered. And then his war on Disney, which was once praised by activist right wingers as a triumph for the anti-woke counter-offensive, went bad on him, further blurring the portrait of him as a can-do culture-war general. So while it was exciting, a few months back, for conservatives to speculate about what DeSantis was up to and when he’d jump in the race, that all went stale. Contra the old showbiz advice, he left them wanting less.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump—the guy everyone was supposed to be sick of—couldn’t stop making compelling news. Headline by headline, he wrested back control of the political spotlight. He went to East Palestine, Ohio, and befriended the community the Biden administration ignored. He turned his indictment and arrest in New York City into a battle-cry moment against the political weaponization of the justice system (DeSantis, like every other Republican, took his side). He unexpectedly appeared in a successful town hall on CNN that gave liberals nightmares about being trapped in 2016 all over again. And he beat up on DeSantis the whole time. In speeches, social-media posts, and by extension in super-PAC ads. These attacks also went unanswered by DeSantis.
Perhaps the answers start coming next week.
There’s a line of strategic thinking whereby its good for a candidate to take his big hits early in a campaign so that he has time to fight back and put the damage behind him. This applies to DeSantis insofar as he can now push back on the lies about and criticisms of policies. But he’s got a tougher problem on his hands. His candidacy lost a good deal of its significance, its moment, before it actually began. If he can fix that, he will demonstrate that he is indeed a man his enemies should fear.