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US politics

Are Trump’s rivals playing into his hands?

Trump and DeSantis in Florida in 2019. Joe Raedle/Getty

The Republican primary for next year’s presidential election was supposed to be simple, says David Graham in The Atlantic: a head-to-head between Donald Trump – either “unbeatable” or “ripe for toppling”, depending on who you ask – and the “hotshot young Florida governor” Ron DeSantis. But with DeSantis formally entering the race last night, things don’t look simple at all. The list of confirmed candidates is already much longer than expected, with the likes of former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, biotech millionaire Vivek Ramaswamy and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Others eyeing a run include Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Doug Burgum, “who you’ll be forgiven for not knowing is the governor of North Dakota”.

Not all these candidates think they can win – some are just trying to raise their profile ahead of a run in 2028, or angling for a Cabinet position in the winner’s administration. But the expanding field also reflects growing scepticism about both DeSantis and Trump. DeSantis’s poll ratings have fallen sharply since the autumn, in large part because he has appeared “lethargic”, unsure of himself and “frankly just a little weird”. As for Trump, many Republicans think the former president isn’t “as invincible as he looks”. Crucially, that means “many major Republican donors are up for grabs”. The money men initially gravitated towards DeSantis because they wanted someone to stop Trump, but now they’re casting around for a new challenger. The irony, of course, is that a splintered field plays perfectly into the hands of one man: Donald J Trump.