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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is expected to come under increasing pressure to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 after rolling to a reelection victory Tuesday on a night when much of the GOP was licking its wounds.
Chants of “two more years” rang out at his victory rally late Tuesday, a nod to his status as the rising GOP national star and the one Republican who many believe could conquer former President Trump in a primary fight.
Many Republicans also see DeSantis as a stronger general election candidate than Trump, whether that contest is against President Biden or some other Democrat.
“DeSantis made a convincing case that he, rather than Trump, gives Republicans the best chance to defeat Biden (or some other Democrat) in 2024,” Scott Jennings, a former adviser to former President George W. Bush and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), wrote in a CNN op-ed on Wednesday.
In coasting to victory in Florida, DeSantis flipped traditionally Democratic Miami-Dade County en route to a 20-point win.
Trump, meanwhile, saw Mehmet Oz (R) lose in Pennsylvania’s Senate race after the former president helped carry him across the finish line in a competitive primary earlier this year. Trump-backed gubernatorial candidates in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin lost their races, and high-profile Trump endorsees in Arizona and Georgia were locked in close races.
One GOP strategist who worked on midterm races this cycle said DeSantis “must run” in 2024, saying he has a good argument based on his four years as governor and sweeping reelection win.
Trump is poised to announce his own bid for the White House next week, but he may enter that contest in a more vulnerable position than before, given DeSantis’s growing muscle.
The cover of the right-leaning New York Post on Wednesday read: “DEFUTURE: Young GOP star romps to victory in Florida.”
Fox News carried DeSantis’s victory speech live, covered the governor’s win extensively on Wednesday and published an op-ed on Wednesday titled “Ron DeSantis is the new Republican Party leader.”
Tuesday was a mixed night at best for “MAGA” Republicans, while more establishment GOP figures like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp easily won reelection — despite drawing Trump’s ire at times. Senate candidates in those states who were backed by Trump ran several points behind the governors atop the ticket.
Republican operatives and commentators who are eager to move past Trump have warned against a repeat scenario of 2016, when a large field of Republican candidates failed to quickly coalesce behind a single alternative and allowed Trump to win the nomination.
In DeSantis, they may have found their preferred candidate to rally behind, even as the likes of former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin loom as potential alternatives.
“I would say it’s not just as simple as to say now it clearly is DeSantis,” said Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesperson. “DeSantis had a great night, no doubt about it. So did [Ohio Gov.] Mike DeWine. This should give any Republican who’s looking at  a reason to very seriously consider jumping in.”
Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host based in Georgia, said Wednesday there is an opening for donors to rally around another GOP candidate for 2024.
“Small-dollar donors are ripe for a DeSantis play,” Erickson said.
DeSantis has not publicly discussed any potential presidential bid, though during a debate last month he dodged questions about whether he would commit to serving his full term as governor.
Trump, meanwhile, has made no secret of his plans to seek another term in the White House. He repeatedly teased a third campaign during rallies in the closing stretch of the midterms and set an announcement for Tuesday at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where he is expected to officially launch his 2024 bid.
But the former president’s plans to ride a red wave to consolidate his hold on the GOP and clear the primary field may now face a setback.
In Tuesday night’s results, some Republicans saw a clear mandate for the party to move on from Trump, who was a prominent fixture on the campaign trail in the last week and whose talk of a possible 2024 bid grabbed headlines days before Election Day.
“Last night was the biggest indicator that Donald Trump should not be the Republican nominee in 2024. He cost the GOP winnable seats by boosting poor quality candidates,” Sarah Matthews, a former Trump press aide who resigned over the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, tweeted Wednesday.
Former Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany went as far as to suggest the former president should delay his announcement until after a Georgia runoff in December that could determine control of the Senate.
Pressed on whether Trump should campaign in the state for Herschel Walker, who ran at the former president’s urging, McEnany demurred.
“I think we’ve got to make strategic calculations,” she said. “Gov. DeSantis, I think he should be welcome to the state, given what happened last night. You’ve got to look at the realities on the ground.”