TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. DeSantis’ campaign declared he would be “enemy number one” during Wednesday’s GOP presidential primary debate.

While DeSantis was at center stage, he was far from the center of attention. He largely left the stage untouched by opponents despite being the close second to the Republican front-runner, former President Donald Trump.

“DeSantis did not engage in the tussles between the other candidates,” Political Communications Professor Josh Scacco said. “When he did not engage with the other candidates, he was overshadowed, and this decision is related to, in some ways, his reticence to engage in a format when message control can be lost,” Scacco added.

Next to seven fellow Republicans, Gov. DeSantis seemed to fade into the background and stick to his regular talking points. Vivek Ramaswamy seemed to steal the spotlight as candidates were quicker to spar with him than DeSantis.

In one of the most memorable moments of the debate – the camera did catch an unscripted and uncertain DeSantis. The candidates were asked if they would ultimately support former President Donald Trump as the party’s nominee, even if he was convicted. After taking a quick glance around the room, DeSantis joined five of the eight candidates, who fully raised their hands.

While candidates did have to sign a loyalty pledge prior to the debate saying they would support the ultimate nominee, an indictment wasn’t included in the fine print.

“The visuals, oftentimes in these debates, say more than the words themselves,” Scacco said.
“The ultimate outcome of the debate for the governor is that he remained in the middle of the pack.”

Meanwhile, Florida Democrats claimed a victory of their own.

“You know who the real winner of last night’s debate was? Joe Biden. The real loser was Ron DeSantis,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said Thursday following the debate.

DeSantis’ debate performance aside, he was back on the road in Iowa Thursday for a bus tour with the DeSantis-aligned super PAC Never Back Down.

The RNC will hold the second GOP presidential primary debate on Sep. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. The lineup in California could look a lot different between now and then.