DeSantis vs Trump’s COVID Showdown – What Do the Polls Say?

Anyone who has been following the Republican primaries is focused on one main showdown: the one between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former President Trump. Although there is much to be determined, they remain the two strongest candidates.

Naturally, these two strong personalities will not hesitate to draw blood to secure a nomination. One of the latest examples of it? Their current confrontation regarding COVID-19, vaccines, and the role of the CDC.

Trump and DeSantis: An Alliance Gone Sour

Although it seems much longer ago, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis began their political careers as allies. Back in 2018, when DeSantis first pursued Florida’s big seat, they were visibly friendly: they endorsed each other’s campaigns, would show up at each other’s rallies, and would frequently praise each other’s talent and principles.

Something changed while preparing for the 2022 midterm. By then, Donald Trump was no longer president, and had lost support from a sizeable number of veteran Republicans. Whether as an effort to clean his own image or because he already saw himself as a worthy replacement, DeSantis asked Trump not to publicly support him.

Trump did not take kindly to this feeble distance. Soon after, he began calling out DeSantis openly over his perceived “disloyalty”. This then turned into aggressive nicknames, and eventually, open enmity.

Why DeSantis Wants to Investigate the CDC

Both DeSantis and Trump cater to the same type of voter: Republicans who appreciate a small government, who want to see a return to traditional values, and who prefer a tough stance on crime and immigration. So why should a voter choose one over the other?

This is where campaign styles come into play. Both candidates need to differentiate themselves from the other and their fellow Republican runners. A good strategy over this? To capitalize on each other’s hits and misses.

The pandemic response, controversial as it remains, offers a great opportunity for this. On their respective realms, both Trump and DeSantis acted largely within the same lines – but they implemented their measures slightly differently and with varying degrees of success.

By calling for a public investigation of the CDC, DeSantis can position himself as a dissenting voice amidst one of the largest public health experiments in recent history. This will both please the voters who resent the lockdowns and expressed doubts about the vaccine – while simultaneously washing their hands off the more problematic aspects of the pandemic response.

At the same time, this move will indirectly throw some shade at Donald Trump. As the leader of the national and federal responses, Trump openly called the vaccine “his” on social media, even after he left the presidency. Now, rather than an “ungrateful follower”, DeSantis gets to become a rebel.

How Will This Political Gamble Play Out?

For this question, we need to turn to hard data – specifically, to a recent national survey by TruthOnDemand.

It seems DeSantis wants Trump to side with the CDC, Fauci, and the FDA – all unpopular figures in conservative circles. But is this enough to garner the sympathy of voters, over 70% of which are vaccinated?

According to TruthOnDemand’s poll, it just might. The general voter population is one thing – but before running for president, either candidate needs to win the Republican primaries. This is a population that is more likely to be unvaccinated, or vaccinated but unboosted. Therefore, they either have reservations about the vaccine or developed them later.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans and right-leaning independents largely seem to agree with DeSantis’ call for an investigation.

One final aspect: DeSantis is being very careful about his words. Rather than open condemnation, he is calling for a grand-jury investigation. This leaves the door open for dissent, without alienating more moderate voters. This strategy may prove particularly fruitful among those who have seen the side effects of the Covid vaccine, either at home or with a close friend. This sector makes up 33% of all voters, which is enough to break a tie.

Final Thoughts

Everything involving the COVID-19 pandemic will likely continue to be analyzed for years to come. Trump and DeSantis are working with a much shorter timeline – just until the end of 2024. Still, the public’s attitudes can change on this topic. And even if they don’t, it will likely remain a divisive and polarizing topic.

As a result, any electoral strategy that calls back to COVID-19 is a risky gamble. So far, it seems to be paying off for DeSantis. We still don’t know if these gains will hold up over the coming months.

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

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