Why the Primary Process Matters
Donald Trump understandably wants everyone else to drop out, but it’s too soon for that.
The whole reason we have presidential primaries is so that voters can get to know the candidates on a wide spectrum before casting their ballots. Debates and media interviews show how they stand up to criticism and scrutiny, while state fairs and small gatherings give a sense of personality. Recruiting donors and marketing the candidate all inform voters regarding the coalition a contender can assemble.
Let the process play out.
Donald Trump doesn’t want that. The 77-year-old former president thinks he’s already won the nomination, in part because he’s already done all that.
“Great polls just out,” Trump said in a video the other day. “Leading by 40, 50, and even 60 points. Who expected that? I did.” He claimed he’s also “leading Biden very big.” As for the other GOP candidates, he said: “DeSanctimonious is crashing. Perhaps the party should come together. People should drop out of the race. We unify, and we beat Biden and the Democrats. They should be easy to beat because our country has never been in worse condition than it is right now.”
No argument with that last part. It is true that before long, many candidates are going to need to take an honest look in the mirror and assess whether they still belong in the race. If you’re not even meeting the low bar to qualify for the debate stage, go home. Even for the strongest other candidate, Ron DeSantis, there are, as our Douglas Andrews aptly outlined, some serious headwinds.
Then again, running for president requires a certain hubris that makes such self-reflection rather difficult.
And unifying Republicans? Well, good luck herding those cats.
Trump does indeed have what historically seems like an insurmountable lead in the polls, and it’s hard to imagine him coughing it up. That’s why he announced over the weekend his decision to skip the GOP debate Wednesday. Instead of debating on Fox News, he’ll sit for an online interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. No bad blood there.
Maybe he’ll also drop by for his smiling Georgia mugshot just before Wednesday’s debate. GOP voters will love it.
Speaking of that, every (bogus) indictment appears to make Trump stronger, and those probably aren’t done coming yet. He already did show up at debates, state fairs, and stadium-sized rallies. Voters know exactly who he is and what they’re getting. He is the former president, after all, running for the third time and on a pretty incredible first-term record.
And he has arguably the most devoted fanbase ever. A sizable contingent of voters won’t even give a sidelong glance to another candidate. They LOVE their man Trump, and they want nothing besides sending him back to the White House for retribution.
To wit, his surrogate, Kari Lake, also made the same argument. “This primary is over,” she said last week. “It’s time for the Republican Party to unite around [Trump].”
We can’t help being amused watching two candidates who’ve spent the last two years claiming actual votes and elections were stolen from them now essentially call for denying GOP voters the chance to even cast a ballot in the primary. This isn’t a coronation. How about we count the votes and not the polls?
But since they’re both talking polls, let’s look at polls, though with the caveats we always issue — Leftmedia polls are used as pollaganda, and the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.
Trump is correct that the RealClearPolitics polling average has him ahead of DeSantis by 40 points. His lead over most other candidates is 50 points or more. But his polling average is just under 55%, and no poll in the average has him higher than 58%, which makes a 60-point lead, well, not possible. In any case, unless something major changes, he’s going to sail to the nomination.
What about the general election? After all, the objective of a primary should be to find the candidate who can win the general election.
Trump’s supporters sure love him, but they’re far from a majority. One Associated Press poll reflects what other polls generally measure, and that’s intense apathy toward Trump. His approval/disapproval is a dismal 35/62, and 64% say they definitely or probably won’t vote for him in 2024. That’s the same number who collectively say he did something illegal (51%) or at least unethical (13%) in Georgia after the 2020 election. Majorities approve of both federal indictments as well.
It doesn’t matter that those are in fact grossly political witch hunts if only 15% of Americans think Trump “did nothing wrong.” It also speaks volumes that just 17% of Americans trust Biden’s Justice Department yet still are inclined against Trump.
The trouble is that January 6 happened, and the vast majority of Americans were so appalled by that fiasco that even the Democrats’ utterly preposterous “insurrection” rhetoric and impeachment efforts didn’t sway them into the “Trump is the real victim” camp. His job is to persuade them to overlook all that and remember how good things were from 2017 to early 2020 — and things were good.
Again, though, polling caveats heavily apply.
For one thing, the election is going to be between two people, and most Americans will pull the lever for one or the other — one of whom might be a convicted felon.
The Democrat nominee is not going to be cognitively disabled Joe Biden, but let’s measure that contest just for kicks. The current head-to-head matchup between Trump and Biden has Biden ahead 44.4% to 44.0%, though that’s a statistical dead heat. Biden leads DeSantis by 2.4 percentage points, and every other Republican by even more.
As Trump could tell you from experience, however, presidential elections are won in the Electoral College, not a national popular vote. So a statistical dead heat is great news, right?
Not so fast.
State-level general election polling is a lot harder to come by this early, so instead we’ll pose a dilemma and ask a question. In 2016, Trump won Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, swinging the latter three from blue to red. In 2020, all those states went the other direction — Georgia for the first time since 1992.
And that was before January 6 and the rest that now have Trump facing (bogus) indictments.
Yes, Trump’s supporters and any other rational observer would conclude that those indictments are banana republic stuff. But when Trump wins the GOP nomination and Democrats nominate someone younger and fresher, all bets are off. Will Trump be able to convince, for example, Georgia voters to swing back to him when he’s on trial for trying to “steal” the Peach State?
This writer generally rolls his eyes at the “most important election in history” rhetoric that gets thrown around every single election. This election is, however, shaping up to be the nastiest. Both sides of the spectrum are incredibly angry, and if the election is close, it seems almost guaranteed that one side or the other is going to claim it was stolen. If a soon-to-be 78-year-old convict who can only serve one term somehow wins, the 2020 summer of rage may look mild by comparison.
Fasten your seatbelts. We live in volatile times.
(Correction: Trump is currently 77, not 78 as previously stated.)
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