Ron DeSantis May Fall Into His Own Abortion Trap

Republican megadonors are pleading with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to not sign the six-week abortion ban headed to his desk. The bill would effectively end legal abortion in the state since most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks. The GOP’s smart money fears that such an extreme law would foreclose winning the presidency before he’s even announced he’s a candidate.

One year ago, DeSantis signed a 15-week abortion ban, “which is close to the sweet spot nationally,” says Republican pollster Whit Ayres, “but it may not be for (GOP) primary voters.” He can’t take on the Democrats and run for president without first getting through a primary electorate that is super charged on anti-abortion ideology.

This is a trap of his own making since DeSantis, with his eye on the primary contest, sought the more extreme legislation and has said he will sign it. In a post-Roe world, isn’t a Republican asking for trouble when they seek the presidency with such a radical position on abortion?

“Asking for trouble with whom?” Ayres replied with the tone of explaining something that should be obvious. “He is running to the right of Trump on abortion.”

As for the adage that you shouldn’t take positions in a primary that can foreclose your chances in the general, that’s only sort of true in our rapidly changing politics for an election that’s a year and a half away. At this stage in the 2020 cycle, COVID hadn’t yet occurred.

“Who knows what the issues will be at that point,” says Ayres, “but you’ve got a guy half Biden’s age running against someone who will be between 82 and 86 as president.” The contrast alone could impact enough voters to affect the outcome in a close election. (DeSantis is 44, former captain of Yale’s baseball team, with a higher batting average than former President George H.W. Bush had when he captained the baseball team at Yale.).

As for the abortion issue, Ayres doesn’t see it as an insurmountable problem. “He can always say, I did what my legislature wanted me to do, and if the nation wants something different, I will consider it.”

His strategy boils down to three words: Bet on Disaster.

Jack Pitney

After a rapid rise, where DeSantis looked like the anointed one, he is now lagging in the polls. “If the election were held today, he would almost certainly lose,” says Jack Pitney, Professor of Politics at Claremont McKenna College. “Abortion is a top tier issue which we recently saw in Wisconsin. He’s betting other issues will dominate, that there could be a recession, triggered perhaps by a default, or an international disaster and in that case, it won’t be an endorsement of the Republicans, it will be a repudiation of the Democrats.”

“His strategy boils down to three words: Bet on Disaster,” says Pitney.

The Republican Party is in a bind on abortion. The issue is not going away, and Democrats are affirming abortion rights in red states like Wisconsin and Kansas because of the high turnout of women and young voters. An issue that inspired its base for decades has become a loser for Republicans.

DeSantis is in the same quandary as every other contender in his party, including Trump. Pleasing the base is at odds with winning a national election. That’s why betting on disaster is a plausible strategy if you’re challenging a sitting president running for reelection. If things go wrong in the economy or foreign affairs over the next year, it’s not hard to imagine a repudiation of a second Biden term if the GOP nominee is not Donald Trump.

Columnist George Will no longer identifies as a Republican, but GOP strategists pay attention when he sizes up the field. In a recent column, Will writes that DeSantis “seems intelligent but unpleasant, forthright but prickly, accomplished but incapable of political grace notes.” He cites a series of unforced errors, from dismissing Russia’s war against Ukraine as a “territorial dispute,” to “unintelligibly” saying he would “not assist” in any extradition of Trump from Florida when the Constitution’s Article !V, Section 2 says otherwise.

Is he trying to forfeit the female vote in suburbia, where the 2024 election might be decided?

George Will

Backing a six-week ban on abortion before women know they’re pregnant has Will asking, “Is he trying to forfeit the female vote in suburbia, where the 2024 election might be decided?” Less than a mile into a race that is a marathon, Will says DeSantis is “flunking.”

Will’s arch criticism must be music to Trump, who on Monday posted this advice for the Florida governor: “Ron DeSantis is a young man who is not doing well against me in the polls, to put it mildly,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “I believe that if he decides to run for President, which will only hurt and somewhat divide the Republican Party, he will lose the cherished and massive MAGA vote, and never be able to successfully run for office again.”

Word from Florida is that DeSantis is moving ahead with a presidential campaign and will announce once the Florida legislative session ends. But between his rocky start and Trump’s continued strength among GOP primary voters, there is speculation that DeSantis could sit this one out, waiting another four years for friendlier turf.

In addition to the six-week abortion ban, DeSantis has signed legislation to carry firearms without a permit in the state, and he is pushing through a package of immigration reforms that would make it easier to deport illegal migrants from the state and punish those who would assist them.

“Make America Florida” is a t-shirt now, but could be a bumper sticker before long.

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