Wednesday, November 16, 2022


Yesterday, in anticipation of Donald Trump's announcement of his third presidential run, The New York Times published the transcript of a focus group featuring seventeen swing voters. Nine had voted for Trump in 2020, eight for Joe Biden. The Times promised a stinging rebuke of the former president:
These 17 Swing Voters Have a Very Clear Message for Donald Trump

When Donald Trump was president, you rarely heard Trump voters blame him when anything went wrong; it was the Democrats’ fault, usually, or the deep state or Robert Mueller or the F.B.I. or was due to any number of conspiracy theories. Which is why it was striking, during our focus group with 17 swing voters last Thursday, to hear so many of those who voted for Mr. Trump in 2020 say that they blamed him for Republican candidates’ performing poorly in last week’s midterms.

Turns out they were just getting started.

When we asked the group a moment later for a word or phrase to describe Mr. Trump, the once-foretold red wave was replaced by a wave of exhaustion, annoyance and frustration — a wave that only grew in strength when we asked them to react to Mr. Trump’s likely plans to announce a new bid for the presidency on Tuesday night.

“He ran for re-election and lost. He should go away,” said one Florida voter who backed Mr. Trump in 2020. An Arizona voter who also supported Mr. Trump said, “I feel like he'll be doing it for revenge. I'm not going to be voting for him this time.”

... When our focus group moderator Frank Luntz asked the participants if they agreed with the statement “Donald Trump’s record was good, but his personality is bad,” 14 of the 17 swing voters raised their hands.
Will Trump get many votes from these people in the 2024 primaries? It appears he won't. When Luntz asked the participants to choose between Trump and Ron DeSantis, fourteen of the seventeen chose DeSantis, including eight of the nine 2020 Trump voters.

So maybe Trump won't be able to beat DeSantis; I've believed for a while now that Trump is close to unbeatable within the GOP, but the campaign against him is so intense and the alternative so appealing to Republican and right-leaning independent voters that I've begun to suspect that Trump is in for a bad beating.

But even though these focus groupers prefer DeSantis, and even though they groan at the prospect of another Trump run, here's what happens when they're asked about a Trump-Biden rematch:
So here’s the Powerball question. The election is held today. It’s Donald Trump versus Joe Biden, and you can vote for either of them, or you can explicitly say, “I would not vote.” But you have to choose Trump, Biden or not vote. Who chooses Donald Trump? [Nine people raise a hand.] Who chooses Joe Biden? [Six people raise a hand.] Who will not vote? [Two people raise a hand.]
Trump gets exactly as many votes as he did from this group in 2020, and Biden gets two fewer.

Luntz asks the group about a three-way race involving Trump, Biden, and Joe Manchin. (Not Liz Cheney -- does Luntz know something we don't?) Trump and Manchin get six votes each; Biden gets two.

What this tells me is that the conventional wisdom, believed by Democrats and old-guard Republicans alike -- that a Trump victory in the primaries guarantees a Joe Biden win in November -- is a crock. The Trump voters aren't even hardcore Republicans, but they've internalized the idea that Biden is an abysmal president, probably at least in part because they're responding to GOP propaganda. Most of the Biden-supporting swing voters are ready to reject the president if there's an alternative, but most of the Trump-supporting voters, even though they say they're over him, stay with him despite being offered the alternative of the most right-wing Democrat in the Senate.

So I think Trump will be competitive if he survives the primaries. Biden can beat him -- a lot depends on what America looks like two years from now -- but Trump absolutely can win.

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