Why Trump is an Incredibly Weak Candidate
The press is so focused on Biden's vulnerabilities that they are making Trump look strong
The entire conversation around the 2024 election is happening through the prism of Joe Biden’s weaknesses — his age, approval rating, and public perception of the economy under his watch. There have been countless stories written about divisions in the Democratic Party over immigration, Israel-Gaza, and the President himself.
Biden’s poll numbers are also a concern. Even if the divisions are overstated, they can still be devastating in an election potentially decided by less than 100,000 votes over several states. Joe Biden’s vulnerabilities could cost him the election, but that is true of every incumbent running for reelection.
The conversation about 2024 is overly one-sided. Lost is the fact that Donald Trump is an incredibly flawed candidate presiding over a divided party. Political coverage tends to be simplistic and binary — if Biden is weak, Trump must be strong. But that’s not the case — there is ample evidence in the polling crosstabs and basic common sense that Republicans are about to pick a flawed nominee that could cost them a winnable election.
Democrats should be worried because Donald Trump can still win. However, the one-sided political conversation imbues Trump with an image of strength he does not deserve. Balanced coverage doesn’t treat every event, utterance, and occurrence as bad news for Biden and a simultaneous stroke of strategic genius for Trump. The punditry is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the interest of balance, here’s a reminder of the many vulnerabilities of the near-certain Republican nominee.
1. A Candidate Getting Convicted is a BFD
I can’t believe I have to write this, but people are not focused enough on the fact that Donald Trump may get convicted of multiple felonies only a few months before the election. Indeed, indictments have not impacted Trump to the degree many of us suspected. And disturbingly, 91 felony indictments may have helped him in the GOP primary. But a conviction is a different matter. A conviction would be an earth-shattering, game-changing cataclysm. The media environment would be dominated by the question of how long the former President would spend in a federal prison.
The recent New York Times poll found:
If the former president is convicted and sentenced — as many of his allies expect him to be in the Jan. 6-related trial held next year in Washington, D.C. — around 6 percent of voters across Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin say they would switch their votes to Mr. Biden. That would be enough, potentially, to decide the election.
For all of the punditry about Biden’s age being a major political liability, there is not enough discussion focused on the Republicans barrelling towards nominating a man who could be sentenced to prison during the campaign.
2. Trump is Weaker Against Biden
Because no Democrat of consequence challenged Biden, the idea that someone would be a stronger opponent against Trump is entirely theoretical and unknowable. On the Republican side, polling is clear that Donald Trump is not the Republican most likely to defeat Biden. A recent Marquette Law School poll shows Haley winning by 10 in a hypothetical matchup with Biden, while Trump and DeSantis lead by four and two, respectively.
Similarly, the NYT poll found:
A majority of swing state voters view him negatively. And the Times/Siena polls show that another Republican candidate, the former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, would outperform Mr. Trump against Mr. Biden by 3 percentage points in these six states. In a matchup that pits Mr. Biden against a generic Republican candidate, the Republican candidate wins by 16 percentage points.
Generic candidates almost always perform better than specific ones because they are Rorschach tests for the preferences of the voter. But it's clear that Haley is more broadly appealing and electable than Trump.
3. The Big Lie is a Big Problem for Trump
Donald Trump has only one consistent core belief — that the 2020 election was stolen. He says it every day, everywhere he goes. He demands that other Republicans repeat his lies. The Big Lie is a loyalty test for Republicans — and it’s a massive political problem. Adherence to the Big Lie is one major reason the Republicans lost winnable races in 2022 and it may cost them again in 2024.
In the polls, Donald Trump currently has advantages over Biden on the economy, crime, immigration, and national security. Yet, the race is in a dead heat. Trump’s election denial is a major reason.
According to a Stanford Graduate School of Business study:
The average vote share of election-denying Republicans in statewide races was approximately 2.3 percentage points lower than their co-partisans.
The New York Times also ran an experiment in which they tested a generic anti-Trump Democrat against two hypothetical Republicans — one who tried to overturn the election and one who said “we should move on from the 2020 election.” The candidate who suggested moving on from 2020 did 12 points better than the insurrectionist candidate.
This makes intuitive sense for two reasons. First, campaigns about the future always do better than ones about the past. Second, most voters believe that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. According to a Monmouth poll from earlier this summer, 59% of voters — including 58% of Independents — say Biden won the election “fair and square.” Election denialism is a problem almost entirely within the Republican Party. Pushing that absurd lie makes one seem like an extremist kook to a broad segment of the electorate. And Donald Trump will continue spouting it on a daily basis. He simply can’t help himself.
4. The GOP is Divided
The political press is relentlessly focused on the divisions within the Democratic Party, particularly over Gaza. Those divisions are real and, in an election with no margin of error, they could be consequential. But the Republicans are also divided. The Republican base is smaller and therefore, they have even less room for mistakes than the Democrats.
First, in the Monmouth poll, one-third of Republicans disagree with Trump (and most elected GOPers) that the 2020 election was stolen.
Second, the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade drove a wedge within the Republican Party. Polling shows that approximately one-third of Republicans oppose the ruling.
Finally and perhaps most consequentially, the Republican Party is divided over Donald Trump himself. According to a CBS News/YouGov poll, nearly 1 in 5 Republican primary voters say they won’t vote for Donald Trump if he is the nominee.
If those voters stick to that pledge, Trump loses the election.
Donald Trump can absolutely win. He might even be a slight favorite at this early juncture, but let’s stop pretending he is some sort of political super man.