When considering Trump v. DeSantis, there are intangibles to consider
Many people — reasonable, good people — are arguing that Donald Trump should just bow out and let the process proceed without him. Often, they suggest that Ron DeSantis is more electable. Maybe he is.
The biggest question about Trump is the one not asked: which is greater, the number of people he brings into the process just because he is on the ticket or the number of people who refuse to vote for him? It is not a simple question, and it is certainly an important one.
There are many people who are not interested in politics without Trump leading. Some just do not care, while some see him as the outsider against the status quo. He brings his own supporters who may just stay home without him. His supporters are a lot of very enthusiastic people who vote and get out votes. It may be enough to be the difference between winning and losing.
Some voters support Trump because of things that the pro-DeSantis cadre cites as negatives. His supporters like him because he is divisive. They want a voice that stands up to enemies (both political and personal) in the ways that Trump does. His supporters like the mean tweets.
To increase the complexity, it must be admitted that his supporters are mostly in states that are already red states and their numbers may often just run up the score of an otherwise close election victory. There are some in blue states. Are they enough to change a loss to an election victory?
Image by Andrea Widburg.
How many votes will be lost from the people who will never vote for Trump just because he is Trump? How many of these people are in red states, where their sitting out the election can be significant enough to change the outcome, and how many are in blue states, in which case their absence changes nothing?
Related to all the above is whether any replacement candidate can minimize the only-Trump defections and maximize the never-Trump increase while possibly bringing in a few new people just because the candidate can do that. Trump increased the Republican voting base. His replacement will have to keep what he built, as well as adding to it.
In addition, there is what I call "The Trump Ratchet." It was a huge factor in his success in 2016. Most candidates exist in a sort of continuum of support. They move up and down, gaining and losing supporters based on the events of the day and how they play the game. There is no doubt that Governor DeSantis can play this game. However, Trump secures support in such a way that once he gains a supporter, that supporter becomes mostly permanent. He puts them in a place where they must commit in an emotional way, and they become part of the campaign. One of the missed effects of the rallies is the way that Trump brings in his supporters. Each new supporter is a click of that ratchet.
What I described above, but isn't being talked about, is a complicated analysis, well beyond "a lot of people don't like Trump, so we need to find someone they like." It is the kind of analysis people must make even as they look admiringly at DeSantis. He is likable enough. He has been a successful governor. He can project his ability to get votes outside Florida. But we still do not know, and cannot know, if what he adds is greater than what is lost by not having Trump on the ballot and campaigning.
There is a way to determine who the nominee should be. It is called a primary. They should politically fight out who is the best man. The combination of caucuses, open primaries, and closed primaries requires that candidates thread the needle, appealing both to outsiders and their base. All candidates get publicity as long as the primary remains undecided.
Many of DeSantis's supporters, though, fear the primary system, which they believe leaves the winner too damaged to succeed in the actual election. It's true that the primary system gave us losers like McCain and Romney. However, in 2016, if we had simply avoided the primaries and anointed a winner, we would have had Jeb! topping the ticket against Hillary. The primaries are the best of several bad ways to test and choose candidates.
The eventual nominee must be someone who can withstand the media attacks, the entrenched government opposition, and the rigors of an almost two-year campaign. We know Trump can do this. Maybe Governor DeSantis can. He has done well so far.
Right now, we need to lick a few wounds and right the ship. It will all happen soon enough.