Byron York / June 29, 2022

DeSantis Overtakes Trump in New Hampshire

It appears that simply the passage of time could be changing the New Hampshire contest.

National polls show former President Donald Trump with a commanding lead over all other Republicans for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. The group includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is in a distant second place but is widely seen as the new front-runner should Trump decide not to run.

But there is no national Republican presidential primary. The race will start in the early primary and caucus states. And now there is a new poll from one of those states, New Hampshire, that shows a very different race than the national polls.

The survey is called the Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire. In addition to general election polling, it has been running 2024 GOP primary polls since the summer of 2021. There have been some big changes in the race in the last 12 months.

In July 2021, Trump led DeSantis by an imposing margin among Republicans, 47% to 19%. In October 2021, Trump had weakened just a bit, but DeSantis was virtually unchanged — Trump led 43% to 18%. But now, in June 2022, Trump has faltered significantly, while DeSantis has surged. In the new poll, conducted between June 16 and 20, DeSantis leads the Republican race with 39%, with Trump close behind at 37%.

The pollsters also conducted a survey of all New Hampshire voters. In a (barely) hypothetical 2024 matchup of Trump and President Joe Biden, Biden is significantly ahead, 50% to 43%. But in a Biden-DeSantis matchup, the Florida governor would win, although by the smallest of margins, 47% to 46%.

In one remarkable result, in a 2024 race against Biden in New Hampshire, DeSantis would receive more support from voters who voted for Trump in 2020 than Trump himself would.

All the measurements show DeSantis gaining and Trump losing. What’s going on? Is Trump’s decline the result of the frenzy in Washington over the Jan. 6 committee? That seems unlikely, since it appears few Republicans have much interest in the committee’s made-for-TV shows. Has some news event moved the needle in New Hampshire? That also seems unlikely, since no one can point to any big happening that would fundamentally alter the race.

Rather, it appears that simply the passage of time could be changing the New Hampshire contest. “Trump slipping in pre-primary polls is part of a typical pattern,” Andrew Smith, director of the Granite State Poll, said in a statement accompanying the poll’s release. “A party’s losing candidate in the prior election is typically the best-known person in their party. As the primary gets closer, new candidates emerge and attract more media attention, and therefore more voter attention, than the losing candidate from the previous election.”

Well, yes and no. Certainly Smith’s point would apply to lots of contests in the past. But Trump is not just the losing candidate from the previous election. He was the president of the United States, and it is extremely rare for a president who has lost a bid for reelection to mount a serious effort to run again. George H.W. Bush did not do it after losing in 1992. Jimmy Carter did not do it after losing in 1980. Gerald Ford did not do it after losing in 1976. Herbert Hoover did not do it after losing in 1932. You get the idea. You would have to go back to 1888, when Grover Cleveland lost his reelection bid and then ran again, and won, in 1892. Cleveland is the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms.

But for now, at least, Trump holds a special place in Republican voters’ hearts — at least in a significant number of the voters’ hearts. Nevertheless, the passage of time affects everyone, even Trump. Each day, his presidency is one day further in the past. In addition, Trump will be 78 years old in 2024 — the same age Biden was when he took office, with many Republicans thinking Biden was too old for the job.

Here’s one more important thing. New Hampshire Republicans may want a new Republican presidential candidate, but they want him or her to be a Trumpy candidate. The pollsters asked whether Republican leaders should follow Trump or go in another direction. Sixty-five percent of GOP voters said party leaders should follow Trump, while just 23% wanted a different direction and 12% weren’t sure.

Trump has changed the Republican Party, especially in its increased appeal to the broad working class. The candidate who follows Trump will have to move in the lane that Trump created. And if he or she does that, no matter who is the 2024 Democratic candidate, Republicans will have a strong chance of winning.

This content originally appeared on the Washington Examiner at washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/desantis-overtakes-trump-in-new-hampshire.

(Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner. For a deeper dive into many of the topics Byron covers, listen to his podcast, The Byron York Show, available on the Ricochet Audio Network at ricochet.com/series/byron-york-show and everywhere else podcasts are found.)

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