Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is arguably the most well-known and successful governor in America, came out on top during the 4th Republican presidential primary debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but may have exposed a big weakness.
All of the candidates on stage—Amb. Nikki Haley, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Gov. Chris Christie, and Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy— performed very well, staying on message and disseminating their respective campaign messages.
While Gov. DeSantis, who appears to have been sporting a newly tailored suit, had his best debate performance to date, his exchange with Gov. Christie and refusal to directly answer a question posed to him about former President Donald Trump, could signal that Florida’s governor is afraid to cross certain attack lines with former president.
Is DeSantis afraid to directly attack Trump on his age for fear of alienating what little support he still has among the MAGA Republican community?
Even though Gov. Christie is polling dead last in all the public opinion polls taken of the race, the former governor of New Jersey and former Trump surrogate pressed DeSantis to directly answer the question he was asked about whether Trump was fit to hold office again.
Over the past two months, DeSantis and his team, and the Super PAC he helped fund with leftover 2022 gubernatorial campaign cash, have been pushing the narrative that Trump was too old to serve, and that Americans wanted someone new, and younger to be president.
As it was the case on several occasions over the three other GOP presidential debates, DeSantis dodged the question.
“We need to have somebody younger. I think when you get up to 80 — I don’t think it’s a job for that,” DeSantis said.
Christie pounced on DeSantis's evading remark.
“Why doesn’t he just answer the question?” Christie asked. “The question was very direct: Is he fit to be president, or isn’t he? The rest of the speech is interesting but completely nonresponsive, and if we were in a courtroom, they’d strike the answer.”
After DeSantis and Christie started shouting over each other, DeSantis was asked again to directly answer the question. He didn’t.
“He won’t answer. He’s afraid to answer,” Christie said, which irked DeSantis. “No, I’m not,” said DeSantis.
“Either you’re afraid or you’re not listening,” Christie continued.
Christie didn’t take his foot on the peddle using his high ground position on the issue to his benefit.
“Look, I’m a simple guy. OK, I hear the question, and I answer it. ‘Is he fit or isn’t he?’ I’ll concede,” Christie said, talking directly to DeSantis. “You’re fit, Ron. You’re new generation. You’re 44 years old. I wish I was still 44 years old.”
“45,” DeSantis said in correcting Christie of his true age.
“Well, congratulations. I’d still take 45,” Christie said, to laughter from the audience.
“Is he fit or isn’t he? And this is the problem with my three colleagues. They’re afraid to offend,” Christie continued. “If you’re afraid to offend Donald Trump, then what are you going to do when you sit across from [China’s] President Xi? You sit across from the Ayatollah; you sit across from [Russia President] Putin. You have to be willing to offend with the truth and answer the question.”
For months, Team DeSantis has said that once the field of candidates narrows, so will the massive gap in polling between Trump and DeSantis. The narrative was that this primary race was only between Trump and DeSantis.
Unfortunately for DeSantis, it appears as if the two-person race is really between him and Haley for second place in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and not with Trump.
The latest Realclearpolitics.com average of polls has Trump sitting on a mountainous 47.5 percentage point lead over DeSantis.
The Monmouth University and Morning Consult surveys that concluded a few days ago have Trump leading DeSantis by 40 and 53 percentage points, respectively.