Former President Donald Trump remains the clear frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination — but not to beat President Joe Biden in the general election. And when that second fact kicks in with Republican voters, the first one should change.
Republicans want to win but understand (better than Democrats, it seems) that their candidates need to win support from moderates, too.
Trump’s failure on that front is why he lost in 2020: Four years of noise to please his fans turned off millions who (mostly) approved of his policies or at least their results.
And his behavior since losing has only made the problem far worse: He’s still obsessively insisting he was the true winner, antics that exhaust even those who’d be willing to forget.
His age, just two years younger than Biden’s, doesn’t help. Factoring in his unstable behavior, it nullifies one of voters’ biggest concerns about the incumbent.
For evidence, look no farther than the recent crop of polls that show Trump gaining over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the ’24 nomination.
He’s up eight points (when he was down four) in the Yahoo News/YouGov survey; Emerson has him ahead by 30; Echelon Insights and Fox News, by 15.
But time and again the very same polls show Trump losing to Biden in the general — whereas DeSantis would win.
In short, those polls show:
1) GOP voters’ memories have faded (for now) when it comes to the disaster Trump midwifed in last November’s midterm elections, as candidates he’d endorsed went down in flames nationwide, costing Republicans control of the Senate and nearly the House.
But 2) independent voters still won’t have him but will go for a guy that Democrats (and the Dem-loving media) despise every bit as much. Trump himself is the problem.
DeSantis, by the way, won in a landslide in November, adding nearly 20 points to his victory margin from four years before. Unlike Trump, that is, he wins over once-skeptical independents.
Trump’s gained a bit with Republicans this last month because he’s been actively campaigning, while DeSantis hasn’t even tossed his hat in the ring yet.
But even Trump’s triumphs are telling: He starred at this past weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference, talking up all the successes of his four years in office, and the disasters his successor has brought.
That won cheers from the crowd — but it was far smaller than past CPAC audiences.
That’s because the outfit is now run by a full-on Trumpie who’d managed to shrink its base even before he got enmeshed in an ugly harassment scandal. Lots of solid conservatives, CPAC veterans, stayed away.
Don’t get us wrong: DeSantis could enter the race and flop, leaving another candidate to become the chief alternative to Trump. But he’s universally seen as Trump’s strongest “challenger.”
Indeed, though still on the sidelines, DeSantis is polling higher than any “No. 2 Republican choice” since Ronald Reagan in 1976.
Reagan came close to beating incumbent President Gerald Ford for the nomination that year. Ford went on to loose; Reagan, to win it all in 1980.
Fact is, the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t want to re-elect Trump or Biden in 2024. Democrats seem unable to stop Joe, but Republicans have plenty of time to settle on a better bet than Don.
If GOP voters want to win back the presidency, they need to look to the future and rally behind a conservative who can win.