DeSantis booked his ticket out of Iowa – but is he still on the road to nowhere?

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DeSantis booked his ticket out of Iowa – but is he still on the road to nowhere?

Minutes after his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses was confirmed, Ron DeSantis came onstage in a hotel ballroom to declare that everything was going according to plan in his campaign to win the Republican presidential nomination.

“They threw everything but the kitchen sink at us,” the Florida governor told a crowd of supporters who had made liberal use of a nearby cash bar on Monday evening, in the hours they waited for him to speak in West Des Moines.

“They were predicting that we wouldn’t be able to get our ticket punched here, out of Iowa. But, I can tell you because of your support, in spite of all of that they threw at us, everyone against us, we’ve got our ticket punched out of Iowa,” DeSantis said.

Ticket to where? The Florida governor did not say, and there are few indications he is primed to win, or even repeat his second-place finish, when New Hampshire Republicans hold their primary next week.

While DeSantis’s first runner-up status in Iowa is good enough for his campaign to continue, he finished 30 percentage points behind the victor, Donald Trump, and just two points ahead of Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor whose campaign is hoping for a win in New Hampshire.

DeSantis’s strategy called for victory in Iowa, and the governor campaigned in all 99 counties, won the endorsement of the state’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, and influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats and was supported by more than $33m in advertising.

None of that was enough to keep Trump from an overwhelming victory, and with the former president leading the polls of the other states that will vote in the coming weeks, it’s not clear where DeSantis can regain momentum.

“I don’t see much good for him in the short term,” said Michael Binder, a political science professor at the University of North Florida. “It’s not going to happen in New Hampshire. So, the narrative then, for the next three weeks, is going to be, what’s he doing? Does he have money to continue?”

DeSantis launched his campaign last May with endorsements, money and a pitch to replicate his conservative remaking of Florida’s laws on the national level. But he ran into the same problem every other Republican presidential contender has: Trump’s continued stranglehold on the GOP base. The former president had led most polls throughout last year, and saw his edge grow sharper with each criminal indictment against him.

Trump also repeatedly outmaneuvered DeSantis, most notably by picking up endorsements from lawmakers in Florida and holding an edge in polls that the governor was never able to overcome.

Meanwhile, DeSantis’s campaign lost staff throughout last year, while Never Back Down, the Super Pac supporting him, struggled to maintain donors and parted ways with a key strategist. In the final days before Iowa’s caucuses, DeSantis began referring to himself as an “underdog”, and on Monday, that status was confirmed when Trump won every county in the state, except for one that Haley picked up. DeSantis carried none.

“I think DeSantis’s struggles are, at this point, kind of embedded into him. He’s not the most charismatic of candidates, he struggles to connect with people, he has some weird ticks that people find off-putting. And that’s hard to overcome when you’re going up against essentially an incumbent,” Binder said.

On Tuesday morning, DeSantis went on the attack against Haley after she announced she would only attend debates against Trump or Joe Biden. “I won’t snub New Hampshire voters like both Nikki Haley and Donald Trump, and plan to honor my commitments,” DeSantis wrote on X.

Matt Gaetz, a rightwing Florida congressman and Trump ally, responded: “It’s over man.”

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