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I told you the Musk endorsement would matter.

Prediction markets aren’t scientific, to put it mildly, but they’re a fun barometer of what we might call “vibes” about an upcoming election. The vibe at PredictIt today is that Trump is now an underdog in his own party, never mind that he leads every national primary poll by anywhere from 20 to 40 points:

As the favorite for the Republican nomination, DeSantis is now also the favorite to become president in 2025:

If you’re a Trump fan discouraged by those numbers, you need only focus on the fact that PredictIt is giving Mitt Romney — Mitt Romney — a two percent chance of being the Republican nominee. (Same as Ted Cruz. Congrats, Ted!) In reality, there’s a zero percent chance of the party nominating a guy who voted to impeach Trump twice. The numbers for Haley and especially Pence are also too high in a field where Trump and DeSantis are both running — although I suppose they could be justified on grounds that it’s possible both Trump *and* DeSantis might have to bow out of the 2024 cycle for unforeseen reasons.

Although, even then, does anyone believe two candidates whom the MAGA base distrusts and/or despises like Haley and Pence would become the frontrunners? Some populist demagogue inside or outside of elected politics would jump in and sweep up most of the Trump/DeSantis vote.

So why bother flagging the PredictIt numbers? Because: It’s the first hard evidence I’m aware of outside of an occasional straw poll at conservative conferences that shows people turning bullish on DeSantis’s chances against Trump. And for DeSantis, getting people to believe that he could beat Trump in a Republican primary is half the battle in convincing them to support him. Obama had that problem against Hillary in 2008. As a young barely-known official challenging a world-famous titan of his party, he was a weak second in the early polling. But as he began to climb, black voters who were supporting Hillary in the belief that Obama stood no chance to win began to believe. And to switch their votes.

There are doubtless many Republican voters out there who prefer Trump as the nominee when asked because he’s the only national Republican figure to whom they pay any attention. The more DeSantis begins to threaten him, the more positive media coverage he’ll get, the more conservative media will buzz excitedly about Trump having a fight on his hands, and the more those Republican voters will take a close look at the new guy. Some will like what they see. And will switch.

Trump won’t admit it but I think that’s part of the reason he’s looking to get in the race early, before the midterms. He wants the field to himself for a few months, to get wayward Republican voters focusing on him again as their supreme, singular champion and believing that his nomination is a fait accompli. DeSantis will be stuck on the sidelines with respect to 2024 until early next year at the soonest.

As more and more Republicans add Iowa and New Hampshire to their schedules and work to gauge the party’s appetite for fresh leadership, Trump has been telling friends and advisers he wants to put his potential rivals on notice — and soon.

“Announcing before the midterms allows him to clear the field, shore up the donor base and take a victory lap after the midterms,” one former Trump campaign official said.

But the prospect of Trump launching a third bid for the White House as an end-of-summer or October surprise has worried many of these allies, who think the timing is premature. More than 10 Trump confidants, advisers and aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they have personally advised the 45th President to hold off on a formal campaign launch until next year. They noted the careful planning it would take to pull off an announcement that commands deference from other Republican hopefuls and injects excitement into corners of the GOP that crave a new standard-bearer and have quietly debated whether someone like DeSantis, whom Republicans widely consider a new-and-improved version of Trump, might be more competitive in a general election.

“I don’t think the lack of planning means he’s not actually serious about running. It just means it’s going to be another fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants sh– show if he does,” said one person close to Trump.

Yeah, that sounds like him.

Another reason Trump might want to get in sooner rather than later is because he knows Democrats will promote his candidacy for him in the hope that Trump’s unpopularity with swing voters will steer a few undecideds back into the Democratic column in November. That’s bad for the GOP but good for Trump: Months of “Trump versus the libs” coverage in the media may cement the belief among Republican voters that no one aggravates the left quite like he does, never mind what that other guy in Florida has been doing for the past year. And from Democrats’ perspective, for short-sighted and cynical reasons, they may prefer to face Trump and all of his baggage again in 2024 instead of the fresh-faced governor DeSantis despite the risk to democracy if Trump prevails. If they’re willing to spend money to promote right-wing insurrectionists in state and congressional races to give themselves a better chance in the general election, they’re surely willing to promote the insurrectionist-in-chief.

I’ll say this for DeSantis in closing: He must be squeaky-clean ethically and morally. Because if there’s any dirt on him out there, rest assured that Trump and his pals at the National Enquirer are looking for it. Hard.