Trump: I’d beat DeSantis in a primary. In fact, I think he’d drop out if I jumped in.

There’s a 99 percent chance that he’s right about this. And the only reason there’s a one percent chance that he isn’t is that it’s possible Ron DeSantis will win his gubernatorial reelection bid in a landslide.

If the new guy proves he has enough crossover appeal to turn Florida deep and decisively red, Republican voters nationally will have something to think about. Which means next year may bring us a case of strange bedfellows in which ardent Never Trumpers normally prone to cheering on Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger suddenly become outspoke DeSantis advocates. The stronger he looks as a potential national candidate by winning big in his home state, the weaker Trump’s grip on the party will get.

Probably not weak enough to cost him the 2024 nomination if he wants it, but DeSantis is the last, best hope of the anti-Trump right.

Trump says he’s not worried:

The former president was confident about his chances if he decided to run, even if it meant a potential head-to-head matchup with DeSantis, another GOP favorite.

“If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else,” Trump declared, even as he said he doesn’t actually expect a showdown.

“I don’t think I will face him,” he predicted about what DeSantis and other Republicans would do if he got into the race. “I think most people would drop out, I think he would drop out.”

DeSantis almost certainly would drop out, not wanting to offend His Majesty and His Majesty’s fans by contesting a primary knowing how that would be held against him in 2028. But don’t forget that some of Trump’s own aides reportedly believe otherwise, that DeSantis might be so emboldened by his popularity among righties that he’d dare to challenge Trump for control of the party.

Could he win?

I wouldn’t put much stock in that. It comes from a poll conducted by John Bolton’s PAC; Bolton, an advisor turned Trump enemy, doubtless relishes sticking it to him with numbers showing DeSantis nipping at his heels. Most other polling of a hypothetical primary featuring Trump and DeSantis shows the former leading by 50 points or thereabout. DeSantis’s problem is simple: No matter how many times he goes on Fox, no matter how anti-mandate soundbites he tees up for online conservative media, he’ll never approach the phenomenal name recognition of a global celebrity turned former president. Most Republican voters won’t have enough exposure to him before 2024 to give him any serious thought as an alternative to you-know-who.

His best shot at introducing himself to the universe of GOPers nationally would be to primary Trump and exploit the spotlight that would come with doing that. All he needs to do is figure out how he gets from that Point A to the White House without somehow hopelessly alienating Trump and millions of his cultier diehard fans.

Trump is reportedly telling people that he’s running — privately but not publicly for reasons both legal and political. If he formally announces, different rules would apply to his fundraising efforts. And he would make things easier on Democrats next fall, as they’d like nothing more than an opportunity to turn the midterms from a referendum on Biden into a referendum on Trump. Republicans are nervous about it:

“The biggest point we drove home was that he doesn’t want to own the midterms if we don’t win back the House or Senate,” said one person familiar with the conversations…

Among some Republicans, another Trump bid is cause for concern. Public polling has consistently shown him struggling to break 45 percent approval across the country, while internal GOP polling this year has found support for his candidacy hovering around 40 percent. His toxic brand continues to turn off voters in the suburbs, according to strategists in battleground states. He faces a litany of other headaches, including investigations into his businesses in New York, and a probe into his role in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Many of the party’s top donors have privately told strategists and party leaders they want a nominee other than Trump, according to four strategists and officials. Part of the discussion inside the party has focused not on Trump’s overall popularity, but on whether he might have trouble convincing Republicans in 2024 that he is best suited to be the party’s nominee for the third time. Joe Biden received 7 million more votes in the last election than Trump, who also earned 2.9 million votes less than Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Go figure that GOP officials wouldn’t be eager to take a third shot with a guy who’s been impeached twice and whose most recent public appearance involved him quasi-endorsing Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia.

Holding off on a formal announcement of his candidacy will let Republicans distance themselves from him a bit next fall, but only a bit. He’ll be out on the trail to support MAGA candidates, of course; he’ll be wading into daily political controversies because he can’t resist the attention; most of all, he’ll be waging total war against Liz Cheney and the pre-Trump GOP establishment in Wyoming. The good news for him if he wins that battle, as he almost surely will, is that he’ll send Cheney into retirement. The bad news is that it would tee up a million “Trump owns the GOP” headlines at a moment when Republicans in swing districts are trying to avoid those.

Here’s the latest turncoat from his administration who recovered her conscience only belatedly, when it became profitable for her to do so. She warned ABC’s viewers this morning that she’s “terrified” of Trump running again because she knows that next time, being term-limited, he won’t be constrained by electoral considerations in how he runs his administration. Exit question: Is DeSantis the only primary challenger whom Trump might conceivably face in 2024? Isn’t there someone else who could run on the platform of “Trump without the Trumpiness”?

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