Thursday, July 28, 2022


On behalf of The New York Times, Frank Luntz recently conducted a focus group of "mad as hell" voters trying (and mostly failing) to find common ground across ideological lines. The group had thirteen participants, seven of whom were Trump voters, six of whom were Biden voters. Only two wanted Trump to run again in 2024, and only one wanted Biden to run.

By coincidence, the Times published the transcript of this focus group on the same day that Andrew Yang and a collection of mostly ex-Republican political figures officially launched Yang's Forward Party, with the goal of appearing on all fifty state ballots in 2024 as an alternative to Democrats and Republicans.

But is a third party what "mad as hell" voters want? During questioning, Luntz asked his focus group, "Give me the name of somebody from either political party who isn’t broken, who has ideas, who would bring this country together or at least bridge the divide that we’ve had right now." The first name offered was Pete Buttigieg, followed by, bizarrely, Andrew Cuomo, who was named by a California Biden voter impressed with Cuomo's pandemic news conferences. To be fair, Luntz asked for names from the major parties only. But the first two people named were a very mainstream guy who ran for president and won two states, and a guy who was once thought to be a presidential contender.

When Luntz followed up by asking for the name of "one person that could pull us together," these were the responses:

When asked for the name of a bridge-builder and unifier, three Trump voters named ... Ron DeSantis, a very divisive figure who's one of the two Republican favorites for 2024. A Trump voter who spent most of the focus group talking about what appeared to be a recent conversion to progressivism named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A Republican named every Fox viewer's favorite nominal Democrat, Tulsi Gabbard. But Kathy Hochul and Chris Murphy are mainstream Democrats. Marco Rubio is a mainstream Republican. Apart from Gabbard perhaps, Evan McMullin is the only person named who seems like a good fit with Yang's party -- he's centrist and has no ties to either of the major parties.

Do fed-up voters want a thorough overhaul of the system? Or would they settle for the same-old with a new coat of paint slapped on? We appear to be heading toward a presidential election with two unpopular major-party nominees, which would seem like an opening for even a clown like Yang. I think there'll be a high-profile third-party candidate if it's Biden vs. Trump.

But Republicans actually ssem to have a plan for ditching their retread front-runner. The party's main propaganda organ, Fox News, is gradually disengaging from Trump. Some Republicans are cooperating with the January 6 investigations and hoping that those investigations will make Trump too toxic to win the nomination. Maybe it won't work, but they're trying.

Joe Biden could win in 2024. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama weren't very popular going into their first midterms, and yet they both won reelection two years later. But both Clinton and Obama faced party retreads -- Bob Dole, Mitt Romney -- who seemed to win their nominations because it was their time rather than because there was genuine enthusiasm about their candidacies.

I think Biden could beat Trump. But DeSantis has the advantage of simply being new. If he's the nominee, some people will be genuinely enthusiastic about him the way few people were about Dole and Romney.

Old can beat old. But can old beat new? We may find out.

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