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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ’01 announced his decision to suspend his campaign for president earlier this week, leaving Donald Trump and Nikki Haley as the two major candidates in the Republican field.

The News spoke with students and faculty across the political spectrum to gauge their reactions to the news. The majority were not surprised by DeSantis’ decision to withdraw from the race, with many attributing his downfall to a lack of charisma and a refusal to differentiate himself from Trump. Students and faculty said the path is charted for a Trump versus Biden rematch in November.

“The premise of the DeSantis campaign was that he was a more palatable Trump, but that didn’t work,” Philip Gorski, a professor of sociology, said. “Something I heard that captures this pretty well is, like, ‘why would you go see a Rolling Stones cover band if the Rolling Stones are still out on tour? I think that there is a plurality in the Republican base that is more interested in performance than policy. They’re more devoted to a person than to an ideology at this point.”

Gorski, who studies the role of conservative religion in American politics, said that DeSantis predicated his campaign on the premise that Republicans wanted someone who could translate Trumpism into a clear policy agenda. But DeSantis was mistaken, Gorski argues; they wanted Trump himself.

Why DeSantis fell short

Students and faculty members gave the News different hypotheses for DeSantis’ lackluster performance. Some pointed to his unpopular political stances and others argued that he should have focused on his achievements as Governor of Florida instead. 

Most consistently, University members felt that DeSantis lacked the charisma of Trump and the marketability of Nikki Haley.

William Wang ’26 is a registered Democrat who told the News that his choice Republican candidate would be Haley. He expressed disappointment with the lack of overt GOP pushback to Trumpism and said that DeSantis is missing the “courage” to challenge someone popular within the party.

“Chris Christie was the most formidable critic of President Trump, but he dropped out,” said Wang. “But none of the other Republicans, it seems to me, dare to challenge this fringe candidate and say what he does is not what America can stand for. But Haley is ramping up her attack after New Hampshire so we’ll see.

Wang was referring to Wednesday’s primary in New Hampshire, in which Trump defeated Haley by taking 12 delegates to her 9.

Trevor McKay ’25, who described his political stance as that of a conservative who does not identify with “any modern political party,” also said that he was “disappointed” but not surprised at DeSantis’ exit from the race. 

While DeSantis’ initial appeal was that he offered Trump’s far-right policies without his “brusque personality,” McKay believes that DeSantis should not have run with Trump in the race

David Bromwich ’73 GRD ’77, a professor of English, agreed, saying that by casting himself as a Trump alternative, DeSantis failed to focus on his accomplishments as Florida governor.

“He started to lose early because he made a wrong decision to run to the right of Trump on culture-war issues, instead of running on his record as a successful governor with a demonstrated executive ability that Trump lacked,” Bromwich wrote. 

Both Gorski and Viktor Kagan ’24, a liberal democrat, also pointed to the Florida governor’s glaring unpopularity with young, Gen-Z voters.

Kagan said that he believes DeSantis alienated many young voters by focusing on the culture war and positioning himself far right on many social issues. Namely, Kagan referred to DeSantis’ positions on public schools and abortion access as “simply unpopular” among most Americans. 

On the campaign trail, DeSantis said that he would support a 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions for instances of rape, incest and the life-endangering situations for the mother. In 2022, DeSantis endorsed the Individual Freedom Act – which limited the way gender and race are spoken about in classrooms and workplaces. 

“Americans, including myself, really want new faces running and that’ll happen in 2028 — it’ll be important that they are younger, listen to and work for Gen Z as they do for other generations, and run on issues that invest in public resources, not outsource them,” Kagan said. “Hearing future candidates wanting to raise the retirement age, send public school funds to private schools, and obnoxious rhetoric about civil rights does not inspire any member of Gen Z to vote for them.”

Haley, Trump and Biden: the future of the 2024 presidential race 

With DeSantis officially out of the running for the Republican nomination, students and faculty also weighed in on Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, the two dominant candidates still on the ticket.

All of the individuals with whom the News spoke predicted that Trump would easily take the Republican nomination and that Haley would drop out of the race in the near future.

Daniel Romoser ’26, who described himself as a “Burkean conservative” does not see a hopeful future for Haley in the upcoming South Carolina primary, especially with her loss in New Hampshire given the support she received from the governor of New Hampshire. 

As a voter, Romoser would prefer to have as many options as possible, though he predicts an inevitable showdown between Trump and Biden.  

For Nikki Haley to prove herself as a formidable opponent, she must confront Trump’s media presence. 

“Trump does have this aura around him that’s hard for any other candidate to replicate,” Wang told the News. “I think Trump has internalized this idea that there’s no such thing as bad press. Any press is press, and his supporters see bad press and turn Trump into a martyr. I don’t think Haley can play Trump’s game better than him. I think to win, both her and the eventual Democratic nominee have to anchor to the better angels of our nature.” 

Gorski attributed Haley’s relative success thus far less to an embodiment of Trumpism than to her political savvy and well-managed campaign. She is the best “retail politician,” he said, and is someone who embodies the old Republican establishment.

The legacy of Ron DeSantis

Gorski describes DeSantis, by contrast, as a “very bad” retail politician. He added that he does not foresee a future in which DeSantis appears on another national ballot, or is a figure in national politics at all beyond his post as Florida governor.

“The perception of him, rightly or wrongly, is that he lacks charisma and people skills,” Gorski said. “I don’t know how true that is. But, I think anybody who burns through $150 million and doesn’t make it past Iowa is going to have a very hard time relaunching another national political campaign. I think he’ll suffer a similar fate as people like Scott Walker and Jeb Bush.”

Throughout his campaign for president, DeSantis said that his Yale education was marked by “unadulterated leftism.” Earlier this year, the News examined these claims in an investigative profile piece. 

In all, DeSantis’ drop-out has churned the Republican party toward an imminent Trump nomination, Gorski said.

“Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party is basically complete at this point,” Gorski told the News. “These first two primaries really write the epitaph on the Reagan revolution version of the GOP. It really is stunning how much money was spent trying to stop Trump and how ineffective those efforts were. There will, of course, be a post Trump GOP some day, but I think it’s far too early to know what that will look like. The only thing that we really can know for certain at this point is that we’re in the post-Reagan GOP.”

The next presidential primary will happen in South Carolina on Feb. 24. 

Molly Reinmann covers Admissions, Financial Aid & Alumni for the News. Originally from Westchester, New York, she is a sophomore in Berkeley College majoring in American Studies.