Tuesday, January 31, 2023


At The Bulwark, Sarah Longwell reports on a new poll that seems to suggest Ron DeSantis is in the GOP driver's seat -- but with one huge asterisk:
A large majority of GOP voters is ready to move on from Donald Trump. But a devoted minority might not let them.

That’s the dynamic I’ve watched unfold in my weekly focus groups with two-time Trump voters since the 2022 midterms. Today those findings are reinforced by a new poll by The Bulwark and GOP pollster Whit Ayres of North Star Opinion Research....
* In a head-to-head match, DeSantis leads Trump 52 percent to 30 percent....

* With DeSantis, Trump, and “another candidate,” DeSantis got 44 percent, Trump got 28 percent, and the generic “another candidate” got 10 percent....

* In a 10-candidate field, DeSantis got 39 percent, Trump 28 percent, Mike Pence 9 percent, Nikki Haley and Liz Cheney 4 percent each, and five other candidates registered at 1 percent.
This suggests that Trump is toast no matter how many candidates split the anti-Trump vote. That's possible. On the other hand, this is a poll commissioned by The Bulwark. Polls conducted for a political candidate's campaign are generally more favorable to the candidate than other polls; this is a poll commissioned by a publication built on anti-Trumpism, and Trump is losing in every scenario, whereas most other polls show him still winning in a multi-candidate field. So I'm not fully convinced.

But if this poll is an accurate picture of how the GOP electorate is thinking, there's still a problem:
... one question I was keen to answer with this poll is how many “Always Trumpers” would follow Trump if he lost the GOP primary and launched an independent bid for president.

And according to our poll, ... 28 percent of Republican primary voters already locked in for Trump say they’ll support him even if he ran as an independent in the general election.

Twenty-eight percent!

All of which is consistent with what I’ve been seeing in focus groups.
I'm sticking with what I said in November about this scenario: Trump won't run third party if he loses the Republican nomination because what's most important to him is looking like a winner, and he won't put himself in a position to lose twice in one year. Trump enjoys revenge, but he hates looking like a loser more than he likes revenge. Also, he'd have to put together an operation to get himself on fifty state ballots, and he'd never manage to assemble a team competent enough to do that. (Just failing to get on the ballot in a few states would make him look like a loser even before Election Day.)

But let's say I'm wrong and he does run third-party. Longwell says that 28% of the Republican and Republican-leaning poll respondents will vote for Trump. But that's just what they say now.

Do you think these people will completely ignore polls showing that Ron DeSantis is within a few points of beating the hated Joe Biden, while Donald Trump lags behind?

I'm sure some won't believe the polls and will stick with Trump, like the lefties who stuck with Jill Stein in 2016 and Ralph Nader in 2000. But Nader and Stein voters didn't like either major-party candidate. "Always Trumpers" appear to like DeSantis a lot. (I looked at the numbers in the poll, and respondents who say they're more supporters of Trump than supporters of the GOP like DeSantis better than respondents are primarily party loyalists.)

If this scenario comes to pass, these voters will be faced with a choice of (a) history's greatest monster, Joe Biden; (b) Ron DeSantis, a full-throated Biden-hater who's within reach of the president in the polls; and (c) Donald Trump, who'll be trailing by double digits. I think nearly all of them will do the most lib-owning thing possible: they'll vote for DeSantis.

But I think Trump, if he loses the nomination, will exit the picture -- gracelessly, yes, but he'll exit. And if he doesn't do it on his own to save face, I bet he could be bribed. Surely right-wing billionaires could find a way to surreptitiously channel money to a Trump bank account in order to get him the hell out of the race. One way or another, he'll be gone.

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