Monday, June 21, 2021


A couple of recent stories suggest that Donald Trump no longer dominates the Republican Party the way he'd like to. First, there's this:
At the Western Conservative Summit this weekend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis beat former president Donald Trump in a presidential preference straw poll.

DeSantis just edged out Trump in the poll, conducted by the Centennial Institute at their event. The approval poll asks participants to select each potential candidate they would approve of for president in 2024.

... each participant [could] choose multiple answers....

DeSantis beats Trump, which seems to validate the common belief that Trump won't sustain his popularity within the party. But DeSantis doesn't beat Trump by much, which means that the post-Trump moment hasn't arrived yet. (And it's not clear whether DeSantis could beat Trump in an election in which voters get only one vote each. In a late April poll of New Hampshire Republicans done for John Bolton's PAC, DeSantis got 20% of the vote in a large primary field that included Trump -- but Trump got 52%.)

Then there's this, from Politico:
Donald Trump has endorsed conservative Rep. Ted Budd in North Carolina’s critical Senate race, the former president's first foray into an open primary in a battleground. That state's retiring Republican senator has other ideas.

Sen. Richard Burr praised North Carolina's former GOP governor, Pat McCrory, as “the only one in the race that can win the general election" for the seat Burr is vacating. “Pat McCrory has a commanding advantage," Burr added.

... Budd’s internal poll released after the former president’s endorsement showed him lagging badly behind McCrory. Trump has lost his Twitter megaphone and the round-the-clock news coverage he had as president, potentially hamstringing the effectiveness of his seal of approval.
Budd released the poll to make the point that, yes, the better-known McCrory beat him badly (45%-19%) in the initial round of questioning -- but when respondents were told about Trump's endorsement, Budd shot to a 46%-27% lead. So Trump's blessing still matters a lot to the party's voters -- although the fact that respondents didn't know about this endorsement suggests that Trump doesn't know how to get his message heard anyomre.

There seem to be two schools of thought regarding Trump's future. Some believe that his dominance of the party is unchallenged and will continue as long as he stays active; others think he can be taken down -- if not immediately, then certainly by 2022 or 2024.

But he might be only somewhat damaged goods by then, in the estimation of his party's voters. That could be good for Democrats.

A thoroughly discredited Trump could mean a primary that seems conventional, with the likes of DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pompeo dominating. (I think DeSantis would win easily.) That's risky for Democrats because while the Republicans will be extreme and Trumpy, with a lot of talk about election theft and imminent Marxism, the mainstream press will sell the party as respectable again, and casual non-Republican voters won't see the urgency in turning out. On the other hand, if Trump is dominant and unchallenged within the party, he'll effectively become the nominee by acclamation, and while he'll motivate quite a few disgusted casual voters to pull the lever for the Democrats, he'll also turn out casual voters in his own party. That wasn't enough to give himn a win against Joe Biden in 2020, but it might be enough if Biden is four years older and seems it, or if Kamala Harris is the nominee and is painted as unlikable.

I like the idea of Trump in the middle: still too much of a MAGA hero to be effectively challenged in a primary, but offputting to a few more GOP voters than he was last November. Maybe major figures will be persuaded (probably by the mainstream press) that they can run against him in a primary and win -- and maybe he'll ask Trumpist state parties to simply cancel a number of the primaries to spare himself the shame of not winning 99%-1%. Maybe he'll alienate voters he needs.

He might not be sufficiently damaged to lose the primaries -- but he might be damaged enough to win only after a bloody and bruising fight. I hope so.

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