Three old DeSantis TV ads that explain his plummeting poll numbers

By Myra Adams – The Hill contributor


Reposted from The Hill: May 4, 2023

It is unknown when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is expected to officially launch his presidential campaign, but pre-launch efforts have produced an accelerated drop in his poll numbers.

Among GOP primary voters, the RealClearPolitics poll average has former President Trump leading DeSantis by 29.2 percentage points. Then Monday, a CBS News-You GOV poll showed Trump trouncing DeSantis by 36 points.

Hence, there has been much punditry and donor class chatter about DeSantis’s aloof, non-user-friendly personality, lack of interpersonal skills and jack-hammer bully style. Those traits are incompatible with face-to-face retail politicking and a barrier to success on the national stage. Moreover, major donors, elected officials and high-powered influencers find DeSantis’s disdain for “working a room” abnormal and troublesome. 

Summarizing DeSantis, Peggy Noonan wrote: “He’s tough, unadorned, and carries a vibe, as I’ve said, that he might unplug your life support to re-charge his cellphone.” Ouch!

DeSantis has self-branded as a “fighter who never backs down.” But is he fighting for you or himself?

To help answer that question, let’s review three of DeSantis’s controversial television ads. The oldest, from his 2018 gubernatorial primary campaign, was such a Trump love-fest that snippets appear in a new Trump campaign ad to undermine DeSantis’s 2024 presidential aspirations. The other two full-of-himself ads are from the governor’s 2022 reelection campaign. What Ron DeSantis reveals about himself in these three ads might help explain his recent primary poll decline.

Nonetheless, in November, DeSantis was reelected by 19 percentage points — a Florida electoral earthquake, proving Sunshine State voters applauded his braggadocio fighter image. Still, both 2022 ads are cringeworthy on the political spectrum. Moreover, the ads are destined to age poorly and could haunt him in future campaigns. Most revealing is a window into his persona that screams, “I am unstoppable; get out of my way.” The governor’s problem is that the reigning national heavyweight champion fighter screams louder, “Get out of MY way,” and never backs down.

The first ad we examine aired on Nov. 4, 2022, four days before the election. Immediately, religious groups criticized the ad as “sacrilegious,” and some politicians called it blasphemous. Even “People” magazine was not kind.

The Almighty-sounding voice-over mentioned God 10 times, repeating the ad’s theme, “On the Eighth Day, God created a fighter.” Fortunately, DeSantis was not named, only shown.

If the governor wins the GOP presidential nomination, expect Team Biden to mock how God created DeSantis, “the fighter,” to save America. And the president could argue that DeSantis’s freedom-based governing record shows the exact opposite. Furthermore, Biden’s well-rehearsed line, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty; compare me to the alternative,” could be juxtaposed with DeSantis, the “alternative” who represented himself as God’s superior creation.

From Trump’s perspective, “God Created a Fighter” was an incredibly sanctimonious ad that prominently figured into Trump creating the governor’s mocking nickname, “Ron DeSanctimonious.” 

The second of DeSantis’s cringeworthy reelection ads was “Top Gov,” released on August 24, 2022 — coinciding with the opening of “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Tom Cruise. The ad is set in an Air Force hangar called “Freedom Headquarters.” There, we meet “Top Gov,” dressed in Cruise’s uniform and with a similar bravado swagger, who said:

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is your governor speaking. Today’s training evolution—dog fighting, taking on the corporate media,” and the ad displays “text fighter” to the number shown. From the briefing room, we see press clips of DeSantis “dog fighting” the “corporate media.”

The governor promoted a pompous, tough, “don’t mess with me” attitude when he said, “Never ever back down from a fight.” Only time will tell how long that moniker remains operative, considering “Top Gov” is engaged in a brutal two-front war.

The state-front battle is with Disney — Florida’s largest employer, economic driver and iconic national brand. The national battle is against Trump for the GOP nomination. But Trump fights “dirty” with no rules, and Mickey Mouse is a corporate superpower.

Therefore, DeSantis will need God’s help on both fronts; after all, He “created” the governor/fighter on the “eighth day.”

Now consider the governor’s most memorable ad to round out the premise that these three ads could explain his recent decline in primary polls. And, as previously mentioned, snippets from this 2018 gubernatorial primary ad are shown in a new Trump ad mocking DeSantis for being ungrateful to his master. This 2018 ad bolsters Trump’s argument that the governor should not contest the former president for the 2024 nomination since “he made” DeSantis’s career. Trump’s message appears to be resonating with GOP primary voters.

Let’s set the stage.

In the summer of 2018, then-Rep. DeSantis, a-little known congressman from northeast Florida, was faltering in the primary polls. But, desperate to win and knowing Trump’s penchant for flattery, DeSantis used his children’s blocks to “build the wall” and taught them to say, “Make America great again.”

In August 2018, after the ad’s debut, I attended the GOP’s annual Palm Beach Lobster Feast, as did DeSantis. Having previously met the congressman, I felt comfortable being honest and said, “That ad is embarrassing, and you will regret it.” He retorted, “Everyone thought it was funny,” and walked away. Years later, Trump is still laughing.

Over time the ad became evergreen and is mentioned in nearly every feature story about DeSantis.

So, what do these three ads explain about DeSantis’s poll decline? Perhaps Republicans think he acts like God’s gift with an oversized ego. Maybe they demonstrate that he doesn’t play well with others, or that he’s a bully who believes he can do no wrong. (Did he learn from Trump?)

But DeSantis’s undoing could also be impatient, unbridled ambition. When DeSantis ran for governor in 2018, insiders joked that he was using the office as a way station to the White House — and could soon be proven correct.

However, in 2024, if Trump triumphs and DeSantis is forced to back down, “Top Gov” might learn, “On the eighth day, God created humility.”

Myra Adams writes about politics and religion for numerous publications. She is a RealClearPolitics contributor and served on the creative team of two GOP presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008. Follow her on Twitter @MyraKAdams.TAGS DESANTIS 2024 DESANTIS CAMPAIGN DESANTIS V. DISNEY DONALD TRUMP FLORIDA RON DESANTIS RON DESANTIS

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