TALLAHASSEE (Fla.) -- Jim McKee stands at the end a line that runs through five fiction aisles inside the Books-A-Million shop in Florida's capital.
He smiles because Ron DeSantis (the Republican governor McKee believes should become the next president of the United States) will sign the book he is holding in just minutes. The 44-year old Tallahassee lawyer almost whispered when he said it for the first time.
McKee softly says, "Personally, DeSantis wins the Republican primary better than Trump," but he must repeat himself in order to be heard. His voice soon grows louder.
McKee states that Trump has upset many people. "DeSantis is more appealing. He has a great story to tell.
As Trump's legal troubles mount, DeSantis' friends are finding more confidence in Tallahassee's book shops, conference rooms and state house offices. He is facing possible indictment in New York for his involvement in a hush-money scheme that was used to stop Stormy Daniels, a porn actor, from making public a sexual encounter.
Despite the optimism surrounding DeSantis's, a surprising collection of establishment-minded Republican officials as well as Make America Great Again influencers raises concerns about Florida governor's readiness to take the stage at the national level. DeSantis has fallen at times under the pressure of national scrutiny as he builds his political organization and presents himself to voters in key primaries states.
Privately, DeSantis' close aides laughed at recent reports that anonymous concerns were being raised about the direction of his campaign. They noted that there is no campaign. His White House bid will not be launched by the 44-year-old governor for at least two months more. The first presidential primary contest will be held in approximately 10 months.
DeSantis's team is based in Florida's Panhandle and believes that he has a strong position among Republican voters. Trump is trying to subvert DeSantis, his strongest Republican rival. The Florida governor's coalition is keen to highlight the differences between the two men.
Trump, a twice impeached former president, is on one side. He will bring a new level to the 2024 presidential election. DeSantis is the opposite, a governor from big states who won a commanding reelection. He is a much more disciplined and focused on conservative policies.
"Of all the things Donald Trump has done or accomplished in his life, it is just constant chaos. And I think that the American people are tired of it," said Spencer Roach, a Florida state representative who was a Trump supporter and believes DeSantis would make a formidable presidential candidate.
As the 2024 presidential election season begins under a cloud of scandalous, most voters have just begun to look at the differences between the Republican stars.
Although a former president has not been arrested, prosecutors in New York and Georgia are conducting criminal investigations into Trump's behavior across multiple fronts. These could lead to indictments in the days, weeks, or months ahead.
The politics are at best murky.
DeSantis supporters acknowledge that Trump could be charged. This would happen in the short-term, as the GOP base rushes for Trump's defense from what they view as a weaponized judiciary system. DeSantis's team thinks that Trump's legal problems will be seen by primary voters as a reminder of Trump's extraordinary baggage, which could result in another Republican failure in 2024.
Trump is now using his legal problems as a weapon to get Republican rivals to join him in the GOP. This is the same strategy he used last summer to force Republican rivals to back him after the FBI raided Trump's Florida home to seize classified documents, and during Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
DeSantis condemned New York's possible indictment of the New York prosecutor over the last week, after intense pressure from MAGA influencers. Other White House prospects also offered criticism.
DeSantis spoke in an interview with Piers Moyn, but did not mention Trump. People see it as weaponizing justice. It's fundamentally wrong.
DeSantis did make a few jabs about Trump's leadership style during the interview, but these remarks pale in comparison to Trump’s scorched-earth broadsides.
The former president used DeSantis’ votes as a congressman in order to reduce Social Security and Medicare. He also attacked his record as Florida governor for violent crime, public education, and public health. Trump also shared a photo suggesting that DeSantis was an impropriety as a teacher 20 years ago, even though there is no evidence to the contrary.
Trump claimed that DeSantis was dropping like a rock at a rally in Waco, Texas over the weekend.
To counter the impression that his numbers are falling, DeSantis' close aides quietly shared polling done last week in Iowa by Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies. The polling suggests Trump is vulnerable.
DeSantis is still learning how to navigate the intense national scrutiny that comes along with being a top-tier presidential candidate.
Some would-be supporters were unsure if DeSantis' recent reference of Russia's invasion in Ukraine as "a territorial dispute" -- something he has since changed -- raised doubts about his readiness for prime time. Consistent concerns are that DeSantis lacks the charisma to connect with voters personally.
Eric Levine, a New York-based Republican donor and fierce Trump critic, said, "The muttering that I'm hearing is he's concerned he doesn't possess the ability to go far because of his interpersonal skills." "If it's between him and Trump I'm a Ron DeSantis man. But I don’t know if they’re with me.
The Florida governor did not make an effort to meet with people waiting in line at the book signing in Tallahassee on Thursday. He only said 'Hey how are you?' As he signed the books, the governor of Florida did not make any effort to speak with people who had waited in the long line. The one-on-one conversations were usually silent and lasted less than 10 seconds. He also signed the inside cover by scribbling his name.
The staff at DeSantis wouldn't permit photos.
DeSantis also failed to answer a reporter from the Associated Press asking if Trump was being treated fairly.
It is not a new decision for him to ignore the mainstream media, as he does with Trump's attacks. His allies actually praise his approach as an example for the discipline that makes him a better presidential candidate than Trump.
However, it comes with risks.
DeSantis has chosen to not engage more directly with Trump in particular. He is following the same playbook as Trump's 2016 Republican competitors -- including former Florida Governor. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz - who ignored Trump during much of the campaign. Each eventually attacked Trump more directly but Trump had already built an unsurmountable lead.
"DeSantis will not back down from the fight. Matt Caldwell, a former Florida state representative, said that DeSantis has not operated in Florida politics in this way to date. He was also running for the position of state agriculture commissioner in 2018. "One could argue that DeSantis has the upper hand. He engages only when it is necessary.
Caldwell compared Trump's 2024 challenges to 1996, when President Bill Clinton was facing serious allegations of sexual impropriety. This nearly cost him his re-election bid.
Caldwell stated, "At the end of the day this is just hubbub about money, sex and which isn’t a whole lot more than 1996." "I don't like it, and I didn’t like '96. But Bill Clinton was reelected.