Trouble ahead for Trump and DeSantis?

Eavesdrop on any pair of political obsessives here — media types, campaign consultants, lobbyists, the rent-seekers of all parties — and you will hear them veer quickly toward the most reliable conversation-starter in this politically obsessed town. The Split. The political marriage of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, never passionate but for a time mutually convenient, is all but over. The only questions that remain are when it will end and how ugly it will get.

Trump likes to say, and he does so with Trumpian repetition, that in 2018 DeSantis was at 3 percent in the polls (not quite) and that without a Trump endorsement DeSantis would have lost the gubernatorial election (probably so). That spring, after trailing for months in statewide polls, DeSantis gave up running as DeSantis and began to run as Trump-Lite. His lead TV spot featured DeSantis sprawled on the living-room rug, teaching his toddling children how to build a wall with tiny blocks. That fall, DeSantis was elected by less than 1 percent of the vote over one of the worst Democratic candidates in state history: Andrew Gillum.

In 2022, Trump says that DeSantis owes him, and invites DeSantis, with Trumpian repetition, to support Trump for 2024. DeSantis has declined the invitation and Trump, in turn, has declined to support DeSantis for election this year, after endorsing, among other notables, Dr. Oz, Mo Brooks, and Herschel Walker.

Can this marriage be saved? The consensus seems to be: no, and it is more likely to end with a bang than a whimper.

I count four scenarios advanced with more or less conviction by the obsessed.

1. Health Troubles. 

Trump is 75. He is under constant stress, much of it self-generated. He has been categorized by an attending physician as “obese.” He routinely orders fries with the cheeseburger. And he takes regular exercise by driving around his course in an electric golf cart. In a recent Washington Post interview, Trump himself admitted that his health could be a factor in keeping from running. “You look like you’re in good health, but tomorrow, you get a letter from a doctor saying come see me again. That’s not good when they use the word again,” Trump said.

Probability: 15–20 percent.

2. Trump graciously steps aside. 

With DeSantis surging toward reelection in November, and his own crowds thinning, Trump makes the decent and apposite gesture and withdraws in favor of his promising young protégé.

Probability: 1–5 percent. Trump rarely does gracious.

3. DeSantis defers gratefully to his mentor. 

Acknowledging his enormous debt to the older man, DeSantis announces that, should Trump run himself, DeSantis will not run and, further, pledges that his formidable organization will deliver Florida for Trump in 2024.

Probability: 1–5 percent. DeSantis rarely does grateful.

4. Trump and DeSantis are involved in a high-speed collision on I-40. 

Failing to reach amicable settlement, Trump and DeSantis resolve their issues James Dean–style, with a game of highway chicken.

Probability: 70–80 percent.

The passage of time does not work in Trump’s favor. DeSantis is running as DeSantis this time around and, in building a solid first-term record as governor of a premier state, he has built one of the better brands in the national GOP. He has presided over a booming economy, become the TV face of Fauci resistance, supported the uniforms, limited abortion, and become the GOP’s most visible and scrappy culture warrior. 

No political ointment comes without a single fly — the Democratic candidate will probably be the eminently likeable if chameleonic Charlie Crist rather than the obscure if memorably whiney Nikki Fried — but DeSantis is at this point the clear favorite for November. If he wins, and wins big, he becomes his own man. Conceivably, he becomes as big as Trump — and he’ll still be 32 years younger.

Those of us who are obsessed with politics always have one final question for promising and ambitious newcomers to the national scene. Does he or she have fire in the belly? Is he or she willing to do the necessary when to do so is unpleasant, or costly, or awkward, or even painful? I have known Ron DeSantis since before he entered electoral politics, and my sense is that, with him, the fire in the belly is more in the nature of an active volcano.

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