Donald Trump is clearly feeling the heat from swirling speculation in the media and GOP circles around the idea that he could face a credible 2024 primary rivalry in the form of Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor.
The GOP ex-president on Wednesday posted results from the right-leaning pollster Zogby indicating that he was the clear favourite for winning the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, 42 points ahead of Mr DeSantis in a survey of GOP voters nationally.
The timing of the post, made on Mr Trump’s new “Truth Social” platform, is significant given the release of a survey from the University of New Hampshire that same day which indicated a shocking change of fortune for the former president who now trails the Florida governor among likely primary voters in the state.
Those New Hampshire results represented a strong surge in support for Mr DeSantis, who trailed the ex-president in a previous survey published by the university in October.
Mr DeSantis trailed Mr Trump by a substantial margin last year, 18 per cent to the ex-president’s 43 per cent. Much of Mr DeSantis’s new support appears to have come from Mr Trump’s own supporters as well as from undecided voters.
The New Hampshire poll also drew a reaction from MSNBC’s Morning Joe, whose hosts mocked Mr Trump and took it as a sign of his lessening grip on the party.
“Well, I mean, you look, at you look at his speeches, even the one this past week, they are all backward-looking and they’re all the greatest hits from 2016, and not performed well,” said host Joe Scarborough of Mr Trump’s recent appearances. “With all due respect to the king of rock and roll, this is fat Elvis in 77, huffing and puffing and sweating and bloated and, like, barely being able to get this, you know, the scarves out from around his neck.”
He added: “I just don’t think Republicans want this.”
Neither Mr Trump nor Mr DeSantis has stated that they are definitely running in 2024, and Mr DeSantis has made statements indicating otherwise. Last year the Florida governor claimed that speculation about his plans to run in 2024 was “purely manufactured” and denied that he was focused on anything besides running his state.
“All the speculation about me is purely manufactured,” he said in September of that year. “I just do my job. We work hard … that’s what it’s really all about, just helping folks here.”
“I hear all this stuff and honestly it’s nonsense,” he added. “So I don’t really know what to say to rumours.”
Still, he remains the only GOP primary candidate in most polling to even have a credible mathematical chance, at least right now, of challenging the former president for the nomination. In just about every survey Mr Trump’s other potential rivals, including ex-vice president Mike Pence, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, fail to crack double-digit levels of support.
Mr Trump, in contrast, has publicly hinted about seeking the White House again since nearly the day he left office. He has continued to hold campaign-style rallies around the country where he spreads his debunked lies about the 2020 election.