Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is anticipated to bear the brunt of his rivals’ criticisms in the upcoming GOP presidential primary debate this Wednesday. With former President Donald Trump opting out of the event, DeSantis is likely to become the primary target. The most recent New York Times/Siena poll positions DeSantis as the closest contender to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, although Trump maintains a lead of 54% to 17%. Other contenders such as former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina have garnered 3 percent each in the poll. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy received support from 2 percent of those surveyed.
Trump’s decision to skip the debate is perceived as a strategic move to allow DeSantis to face challenges from fellow candidates on the stage. According to GOP donor Dan Eberhart, if Trump doesn’t participate, DeSantis becomes the de facto front-runner and needs to be prepared to counter attacks from his rivals.
Eberhart commented, “It’s a calculated strategy by Trump. He recognizes that Gov. DeSantis is his most significant competition. This approach lets others criticize DeSantis on his behalf.”
In response to a leaked debate preparation memo from a political action committee supporting his 2024 campaign, DeSantis distanced himself from its contents. He addressed the matter in a brief interview with Fox News, stating, “Regarding the memo, it’s not something I authored or reviewed. It’s an item that has been set aside.”
The memo from Never Back Down PAC advised DeSantis to champion Trump and use strong language against Ramaswamy. It suggested that DeSantis defend Trump when faced with attacks from Chris Christie and proposed a potential response for DeSantis to use against the former New Jersey governor on the debate stage in Milwaukee: “Since Trump isn’t participating, let’s avoid discussing him. He’s not present to defend himself, which indicates weakness. We are all in competition against him. Aligning with someone on this platform who seems to be vying for a position on MSNBC doesn’t seem prudent.”