Updated Jun 13, 2023, 8:20am EDT

DeSantis-world bemoans crowded GOP field

REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

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The News

Ron DeSantis’ supporters are grumbling that the larger GOP field is complicating their path in South Carolina, where two of the early primary state’s highest profile politicians, Senator Tim Scott and former governor Nikki Haley, are in the race. Adding to their frustration: Their suspicion that the candidates are actually running to be Donald Trump’s vice president.

“It’s particularly a concern for South Carolina, because it seems very clear that both of the South Carolinians in the race are not contenders and are clearly running to curry favor with Trump in some regard, whether it’s to be VP or something else,” one person within DeSantis world said. “And I think that is very problematic, because in all probability, most if not all of their votes in South Carolina would go to Ron DeSantis if they weren’t in the race.”

Two others in DeSantis’ orbit also noted that, with Haley and Scott currently in the race, South Carolina could be an issue for the Florida governor, though they downplayed use of the word “concern” — one described it more as a “nuisance.”

“Nikki Haley and Tim Scott are relatively popular within the state, and I’m sure will both perform very well within the state … they’re certainly going to take a big chunk of the [DeSantis] vote,” a former DeSantis staffer added.

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Shelby’s view

One thing that’s clear: Trump has learned to love the divided field.


In recent months, he has conspicuously cheered on some of the non-DeSantis candidates while pledging to “talk badly” about others who criticize him more directly. Trump praised Vivek Ramaswamy for saying “good things” about his presidency and called Scott a “big step up” from DeSantis. “The more the merrier,” he said when Haley entered the race.

“If it’s a one-on-one race, Trump is a lot more beatable,” the former DeSantis staffer noted, echoing a common sentiment among Republican strategists, as well as Trump’s own advisors, that a crowded field will only help the former president.

The candidates at the center of these “running for vice president” allegations are well aware of the suspicion they aren’t trying to win, which threatens to undermine their message to voters, donors, and potential endorsers. Scott’s campaign has moved aggressively to shut down any speculation on the topic. Haley has tackled the discussion head on: “I don’t play for second,” she said at a recent town hall.

And while Trump’s naked attempts to boost their candidacies have helped fan the flames of suspicion, there’s no evidence the candidates are anything but sincere in their quest to win. Scott enters the race with real advantages, starting with a massive war chest and key senate endorsements; Haley has attacked both Trump and DeSantis in recent weeks (on Monday, she accused Trump of putting troops in jeopardy if classified document charges prove true); and DeSantis is still unproven after a rocky few months.

DeSantis has real reason to worry: While polling is sparse, Real Clear Politics’ average for South Carolina has Trump with 42% support, DeSantis with 22%, and Haley and Scott combining for 24%.

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Room for Disagreement

Several Republican senators opposed to Trump’s election told Igor Bobic last week they expected the field to winnow quickly compared to 2016, when a still-competitive race between six candidates helped Trump win South Carolina with just over 32% of the vote. “As the first two primaries come through, I think it’ll weed itself out,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D, who is backing Scott, said. He added he’d “much rather have it thinned out to Tim Scott right now.”

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  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu decided against a presidential run this week, but not without a withering take on certain Republicans who made a different call: “Too many other candidates who have entered this race are simply running to be Trump’s vice president,” he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “That’s not leadership; that’s weakness.”