Following the disappointment of the GOP’s terrible midterm election results, Republicans and conservative media made a swift and stunning flip last week: Ben Shapiro, the creator of Daily Wire and a podcaster, said that Donald Trump is not the head of the Republican Party. The former president was referred to as the “Republican Party’s Biggest Loser” in an editorial published in The Wall Street Journal. Republican politicians and opinion leaders publicly discussed whether it was time for Trump to lose the party’s leadership. The New York Post, the former president’s preferred local newspaper, gave him the moniker “Trumpty Dumpty.” The tabloid referred to his opponent and possible opponent in 2024, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as “DeFuture” and said that “Don had a fantastic fall.”
Likewise, if not frigid, reactions followed the former president’s announcement on Tuesday that he will run again for the White House. Only a few Republican members of Congress supported him, while the majority either expressed their wish for greater competition in the primary or avoided reporters’ queries on Capitol Hill. Polls that suggested DeSantis would defeat him in potential primary contests drew attention, and even Ivanka Trump, his own daughter and a longtime advisor, issued a vague statement distancing herself from his candidacy without even making a direct support.
As a consequence, a story of a wounded, debilitated Trump and a party debating if it is now time to move on has emerged during the last week.
A number of facts, however, suggest that Trump, with his fervently loyal base and enormous war chest, still remains in a much stronger position heading into a Republican primary than any other potential GOP candidate. This narrative, which is unproven and only in its infancy, is at odds with these facts.
Trump is “universally recognized, generally liked, has a group of ardent fans, more money than he’ll ever need, and receives a ton of press attention for everything he does and says. And he’s already won it. David Hopkins, a specialist on party dynamics and an associate professor of political science at Boston College, claims that he has done it previously.
Accordingly, he claims that there is some wishful thinking behind those who want to write him off or who believe that the results of last week’s election would persuade Republican voters that Trump is a failure and that they should stop supporting him.
A Strong Advantage
Trump has served as the GOP’s North Star for the last six years, and it is almost hard to overestimate the party’s impact on him.
A third of Americans, including 61% of Republicans, believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump based solely on the word of the former president and his surrogates. So-called “election denialism” has been the scaffolding on which Trump has draped his entire political persona in the past two years. And though many high-profile election deniers lost their races last week, prompting introspection among some Republican tastemakers, the fact remains that a third of Americans, including 61% of Republicans, believe that
Data indicates the Republican base’s very strong support: Trump is seen favorably by 78% of Republicans overall, according to a recent survey, and by 95% of Republicans who participated in the midterm elections. Through two impeachments, countless criminal and civil investigations, a number of significant scandals, and after the Capitol uprising on January 6, 2021, which was sparked by Trump’s statements about election fraud, he has managed to keep that popularity.
Whit Ayers, GOP strategist and CEO of North Star Opinion Research, notes that although some of the most recent polls indicates that Trump’s support among Republicans may be declining somewhat, there remains a core group of 35 to 40% of “always-Trumpers” within that overall support. They will stand up for him until hell freezes over because they think he is the one who “hung the moon.”
Two years after Trump left office, that group continues to draw large audiences to rallies. For them to express their joy, there is an entire industry of Trump T-shirts and clothing, a plethora of cartoons and memes, and a Trump-owned social media community. No other possible contender can yet make that claim, not even DeSantis with his developing national reputation.
Many of them ardent followers are from the party’s extreme right. And Trump has contributed to bolstering their popularity by forming closer ties with organizations like the QAnon movement that accept and promote improbable conspiracy ideas.
“If you have a group of individuals who are truly dedicated to you and who are going to support you no matter what happens, and they’re willing to show out in the snow at the Iowa caucus to vote for you and support you when not a lot of other people are showing up – that’s an advantage,” Hopkins adds. But Trump begins there, unlike any other contender or realistic option in this election, you know.
And over the last six or more years, their followers have helped mold Trump into the leader of a cultural movement in addition to the top Republican politician. Trump seemed to make a direct reference to this in his speech announcing his 2024 candidacy.
During a prepared passage of his speech, he remarked, “This is not a responsibility for a politician or a traditional candidate, it is a mission for a great movement that reflects the bravery, confidence, and the spirit of the American people.”
Instead of a majority, a candidate requires a plurality to win the primary. As evidenced by recent polls showing his loss in several states in hypothetical head-to-head matches against DeSantis, Trump’s core supporters would not, on their own, guarantee his victory in the primaries if it becomes a one-on-one contest with another candidate. However, his path could be much easier if two or more serious contenders split the vote of, what Ayers estimates is about half of Republicans who supported Trump but are tired of his controversies and opposition to his policies.
Despite increasing his national exposure over the last year, DeSantis has not yet announced his desire to run for office in 2024. In cautious recent interviews promoting his new book, former vice president Mike Pence also hinted that he would think about running for president, or at the very least, that other Republicans are thinking about it. Additionally, there are rumors circulating about Glen Youngkin, the governor of Virginia, and Larry Hogan, the departing governor of Maryland who has positioned himself as a moderate Republican.
Even though DeSantis hasn’t stated his plans for 2024, some members of the party have started to support him. However, it is now hard to anticipate the size of the field and the distribution of the party’s support.
Ayers adds, referring to the 17 competitors who vied for the GOP candidacy in 2016, “If he has a field equal to the size that he had in 2016, there will be other candidates who would split up the non-Trump vote and make it easier for Donald Trump to win a nomination.” On the other hand, it will be much harder for Trump to win if the anti-Trump crowd unites behind a rival candidate.
In addition, Trump has the benefit of a sizable campaign fund that he has amassed over a number of years, estimated to be worth at least $100 million. And even while candidate Trump won’t have direct access to most of that money since it is kept through his political action committee, it will still be used in a way that serves his interests.
Winds from the front or back?
Trump is now dealing with some of the harshest criticism and pointed indifference from his own party than at any other point in his presidency, with the possible exception of 2015 and 2016 – a period that has many similarities to the present time.
Republicans who have been elected to office and erstwhile allies of the former president in the media have both made this critique.
In a recent interview, Pence remarked, “I believe that in 2024, we will have better options.”
Republican senator from Louisiana Bill Cassidy said of Trump’s statement on 2024, “I didn’t listen to it. I have other things to do, to be honest. Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, reportedly earned a thunderous round of applause when he blamed Trump for recent GOP defeats at a conference of Republican governors.
It’s uncertain how much influence such outside voices will have on voters.
I don’t think there is much evidence to suggest that Republican elected leaders who are not Trump will be able to persuade Republican supporters to vote against him. Without their backing and sometimes despite their vehement opposition, he won in 2016,” Hopkins claims.
Recent reports indicate that some Republican megadonors have distanced themselves from Trump and are considering alternative options outside of legislators. And although the former president’s financial situation is not seen to be an immediate concern, the optics of his rupture with his wealthy backers may be problematic.
However, conservative media may influence primary voters more. Rupert Murdoch’s vast media conglomerate, which played a significant role in supporting Trump and maintaining his popularity, is now split by Trump’s declaration of 2024.
The Murdoch-owned New York Post teased its report on the former president’s address this week from the main page with the title, “Florida Man Makes Announcement,” and has so far labeled the former leader “Toxic Trump.” On the other side, Murdoch’s Fox News channel has been a little more understanding. Numerous of the network’s well-known presenters have continued to show cautious support for the former president, despite the fact that the network finally turned away from Trump’s speech on Tuesday and some of its guests have condemned him.
Trump often positions himself as the underdog and outsider, traits that initially helped him win the 2016 presidential election. He also frequently portrays himself as the victim of politically driven assaults and investigations. It’s possible that criticism from Republican elected officials and members of the media will reinforce that narrative, which history has shown to be popular among GOP voters.
The effect of, and influence on, the multiple, continuing civil and criminal investigations into Trump, his associates, his family, and his company, remains one of the major unknowns surrounding Trump’s campaign and the fate of the GOP.
Trump’s handling and hoarding of secret materials after leaving office, including records allegedly revealing highly sensitive data on China and details on Iran’s missile program, are presently the subject of consideration by Attorney General Merrick Garland for possible prosecution.
Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, has also filed a civil case against Trump, his grown children, and the Trump Organization, accusing them of defrauding banks over a period of years and engaging in systemic fraud, according to the prosecution. A criminal inquiry being conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office is likewise centered on claims that are similar.
In addition to those inquiries, a Georgia district attorney is looking into whether Trump and his aides improperly meddled in the 2020 race, and Trump is a key player in that inquiry.
There is evidence to indicate that an indictment delivered by Garland or in Georgia may actually benefit Trump politically, even though it would surely be a severe escalation of both investigations and would probably hurt any other candidate’s chances. The FBI searched Trump’s home at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, in August in an effort to find the missing sensitive materials, which led to a high in support for Trump in a potential primary. The House committee looking into what happened on January 6 also began to focus especially closely on him around the same time.
Ayers says of a potential indictment, “We’ve never faced anything quite near what the political repercussions of that would be. “There is no doubt that it will give him at least a temporary lift. The issue is whether it will strengthen the case of those who claim that he is far less electable and that the only way to win an election is to select someone else if it continues.
When other candidates will join the contest is unclear. Trump, on the other hand, has remained obstinate and unflinchingly brazen in the face of the debates around him and his position within the party.
Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Trump’s candidacy or status in politics will alter much as a result of the criticism. Trump commented on the Fox News ratings during his broadcast statement on his social networking site Truth Social on Thursday.
“We have experienced Trump being written off before. Hopkins adds, “We’ve gone through having him be written off as old news and somehow disappearing before.
Additionally, it has a lengthy history of people who were hailed as giant-busting presidential prospects to fail in the primaries. We might also note that Trump has previously won the nomination. He has shown his ability to achieve it. And none of his opponents have yet to demonstrate that,” he claims.