Is Trump Toast or is He Still the GOP Frontrunner?
Are the reports of Trump's demise greatly exaggerated?
Donald Trump had a brutal end of the year. In the span of a few short months, he bore the brunt of the blame for the GOP’s underwhelming midterm performance, had a soporific campaign announcement, sparked a national scandal by dining with Nazis, and was the subject of a criminal referral. As a result, his hold on the GOP base continues to weaken; his defenders are few and far between, and his potential GOP opponents are licking their chops. After years of political indestructibility, Trump is melting before our eyes.
As Maggie Haberman wrote in the New York Times last month:
Mr. Trump is significantly diminished, a shrunken presence on the political landscape. His fade is partly a function of his own missteps and miscalculations in recent months. But it is also a product of the voluminous evidence assembled by the House committee and its ability to tell the story of his efforts to overturn the election in a compelling and accessible way.
In that article, former GOP Representative Carlos Curbelo spoke to a growing sentiment among the Republican establishment:
I don’t think that anything can save Donald Trump… He’s decidedly on the path to irrelevance. He reduces himself by the day… Donald Trump is old, predictable, obviously petty.
As the calendar turns to 2023, many people in American politics wonder: is Trump toast?
The cooked bread metaphor is an homage to a Nate Silver cover story for the New York Times Magazine that is infamous among a certain (i.e. old) generation of Democratic operatives. In the fall of 2011, Silver looked at Obama’s approval rating, the state of the economy, and other measures and declared that Obama was unlikely to win reelection. While Silver’s analysis was nuanced and filled with caveats, his editors used the intentional, trolling headline “Is Obama Toast?” and blazoned it across the cover.
At the time, the cover of the New York Times Magazine was one of the most valuable and influential pieces of real estate in media. The provocative headline drove hours of cable TV discussion and a gazillion Tweets about Obama’s likely demise. Obama’s approval numbers bounced back within a few months, and the whole brouhaha looked pretty foolish. Will the same thing happen with Trump, or is he really toast?
What the Polls Tell Us
Here’s the best way to understand Donald Trump’s political strength within the Republican Party from 2015-2022: on January 6th, Trump sent a group of his supporters to the Capitol to murder the Republican Vice President and endanger the entire Congress; and within months, the party leadership was giving him fake trophies to win back his support.
Trump could truly do no wrong in the eyes of the Republican base. That has changed in recent months. Many GOP voters are looking for a fresher face to lead the party against Joe Biden in 2024.
According to a December poll from Suffolk University:
Nearly two-thirds of Republican voters and independents who identified as either conservative or very conservative (65%) said they want DeSantis to run for president, and 56% of those same voters said they prefer him to former President Donald Trump.
This poll aligns with a series of polls, conducted since Trump announced his campaign, that show a significant bloc of Republican voters are unenthused (to say the least) about a third Trump run. Similarly, the polls show an increase in support for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Morning Consult conducts a monthly tracking poll of the 2024 Republican primary. Their latest poll had DeSantis receiving 33 percent of the vote and trailing Trump by only 15 points. That may seem like a large lead — and to some extent it is — but DeSantis has not yet announced, is not super well-known, and has not run a single ad. More than half of Republicans choosing someone — anyone — other than the former President is a big deal and speaks to Trump’s newfound weakness. At the very least, the polling shows that someone else has a real shot at dethroning the MAGA king.
But how good a shot?
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