Design by Grace Filbin. Buy this photo.

The speculation that the 2022 midterm elections would be a red wave for the Republicans turned out to be incorrect. In fact, Nov. 8 turned out well for the Democrats. With fewer than expected losses in the House and the Senate’s remaining blue, the Biden administration retained more power than expected. While Republicans managed to hold their governorships in Georgia, Florida and Texas, Democrats won in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. In Michigan, Democrats flipped both the state House and Senate, giving Democrats a trifecta for the first time since 1982. Reproductive rights were on the ballot in five states, with all ballot initiatives resulting in wins for abortion rights supporters.

While Election Day’s results will determine the balance of power for the next two years, sights have already turned to 2024 — specifically, to the Republican primary. Former President Donald Trump’s inability to deliver big wins for Republicans has thrown into doubt whether he can lead the party to take back the White House in 2024. Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seems poised to vie for the Republican nomination.

While Trump announced his reelection bid on Nov. 15, no one should expect that he will cruise to an easy victory. Considering DeSantis’s strong performance in Florida’s gubernatorial election and Trump’s failure to deliver major wins for the Republicans, America should prepare for a Republican primary pitting Trump against DeSantis.

Not only do political pundits and commentators predict that DeSantis will challenge Trump in the 2024 Republican primary, but Trump seems to fear the same scenario. On Election Day, the former president spoke to reporters about the possibility of a DeSantis run, saying that it would be a mistake because “I will tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering. I know more about him than anybody other than perhaps his wife, who is really running his campaign.” Trump also did not endorse DeSantis in this election cycle and called him “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a rally on the Saturday before Election Day.

Trump has good reason to fear a DeSantis challenge in 2024. For one, while some Trump-endorsed candidates were successful on Election Day, such as J.D. Vance, the newly elected senator from Ohio, and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, many were not, such as Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz and Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. Trump does not have the hold on the Republican Party he once had. Even in Florida, DeSantis won a higher percentage of the vote than Sen. Marco Rubio, who received an endorsement from Trump last year. While Trump continues to shape the direction of the Republican Party, voters are not as drawn to him as they previously were.

Trump’s reelection bid could be further marred by his continued legal problems with the Department of Justice and the Jan. 6 committee subpoena. These issues could continue his challenges with the electorate that were evidenced by the lack of his endorsed candidates who won in the election this year.

DeSantis, on the other hand, has only become more popular with voters, at least in the state of Florida. In 2018, DeSantis barely won the gubernatorial election against Democratic challenger Andrew Gillum by 0.4%. This year, DeSantis won by a margin of 19.4%. DeSantis also won a higher percentage of the vote than Trump in 2020, who received 51.2% of the vote to President Joe Biden’s 47.9% in Florida. Additionally, DeSantis performed well in traditional Democrat strongholds, such as Miami-Dade County, showing that DeSantis could perform well in other swing states and districts. 

DeSantis can also use the policies he has implemented as governor to his advantage. DeSantis has taken controversial policy actions to become a star on the right. The COVID-19 pandemic led DeSantis to implement a variety of policies that elevated him in conservative circles and horrified those on the left. DeSantis banned mask mandates in schools and lifted COVID-19 restrictions on businesses in Sept. 2020. Besides COVID-19 policies, DeSantis signed restrictions on discussion of sexual orientation, gender identity and critical race theory into law, all of which appeal to many Republicans. DeSantis has also taken actions on the national level. He chartered flights to take Venezuelan asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. in Sept. and refuses to say whether or not he supports Trump’s 2020 election lies. 

DeSantis’s actions and policies appeal to the right without taking Trump’s approach of brash election denial and potential criminal conduct. However, Trump has one advantage over DeSantis. He has name recognition and still maintains a base of supporters; DeSantis’s national ambitions could make not just for a bitter primary season, but could also lead to division in the Republican Party.

As it is unclear whether Biden will run for reelection, the 2024 election has the potential to be bitterly contested on both sides of the aisle. While Trump has announced his reelection campaign, it is unwise to assume that he will be the Republican nominee. Considering Trump’s comments on DeSantis and the governor’s policies that continue to make national news, it seems likely that Trump will face DeSantis in a bitter primary that will divide the Republican electorate in 2024.

Lydia Storella is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at storella@umich.edu.