The 2024 GOP presidential race will likely be competitive

FLORENCE, SC - MARCH 12: Vendors flags fly in the wind before a rally featuring former President Donald Trump at the Florence Regional Airport on March 12, 2022 in Florence, South Carolina. The visit by Trump is his first rally in South Carolina since his election loss in 2020. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 49

  • Trump’s strengths, Trump’s weaknesses
  • A Republican challenge to Trump for 2024 is likely
  • High early turnout points to Democratic strength in Georgia

President 2024

Republicans: There’s only one announced presidential candidate for 2024. That is Donald Trump, and of course, all the talk is going to be about whether Republican voters want to nominate him a third time for president. Trump has, after all, brought a groundbreaking ideological shift to the GOP. What had been a mostly upper-middle-class party is gaining working class and losing upper-class support, even as it deemphasizes fiscal issues and focuses more on social ones.

So far, the narrative in Trump’s favor is a lot less compelling than one might have expected before the midterm election results came in. Indeed, what little polling there is suggests that Trump has an uphill climb to the nomination. Even so, that involves the unlikely assumption that he has to face just the one particular opponent who has drawn national interest.

Previously, polls of Republicans in Iowa, Georgia, Florida, and New Hampshire all suggested that Trump has lost ground since this summer and now trails Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). A poll of Pennsylvania showed a similar result last week, with DeSantis leading 45 percent to 40 percent. A poll of Texas Republicans showed a similar result, with DeSantis leading 43 percent to 32%, in a huge shift from a similar poll taken in October.

Then there was last week’s Marquette University Law School poll — a nationwide poll of registered voters. It showed that DeSantis leads Trump 60% to 40% among Republicans nationally and 65% to 35% among independents. In contrast to 2016, Trump performs significantly worse with Republican-leaners than he does with staunch Republicans.

Several of the other results from this one are interesting and shed light on Trump’s apparent loss of support. For example, Trump is less popular than President Joe Biden nationwide (a 36-point net negative approval rating, compared to Biden’s six-point net negative rating) and loses to him in a general election, 44% to 34%. In contrast, the poll suggests that DeSantis would start off on equal footing, tied with Biden, 42% to 42%. That’s not bad, because DeSantis has a lot of room to grow, given that 27% of the electorate doesn’t know enough about him to form an opinion. Biden, like Trump, has universal name recognition and would be unlikely to improve his numbers significantly, absent an enormous change of circumstances.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean Trump is just going to give up and go home. Republicans still really like him — 67% of them view him favorably. But another ominous sign may be that only 55% of Republicans (and only 29% of registered voters) said they want to see him run again. And in a head-to-head race with DeSantis, it appears that a majority would like to nominate someone else, too. 

Then again, Trump doesn’t have any challengers so far. Trump has been trying to clear the field by initimidating anyone who would challenge him as personally disloyal — a tactic that helped him topple several Republican House members in 2022 who had voted for his impeachment. Trump has even pulled out his old technique of giving opponents unflattering nicknames, such as “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted,” but even this doesn’t seem to be having the effect that it used to

And although it is very common for incumbency to determine presidential nominations, it is a lot harder to claim it purely on the basis of personal loyalty, as Trump seems to be doing. Ambition is a powerful force in politics, and rising political stars know that it usually doesn’t pay to wait — not even for a force of nature like Trump. DeSantis, assuming he is interested in running, will already be completely irrelevant and out of office by 2028. If he wants to be president, there is no sitting out 2024.

Don’t underestimate Trump. We have already seen what happened in 2016. Especially if multiple other hopefuls jump in, such as South Dakota Gov. Kirsti Noem and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley jump in, his opposition could become fractured as in 2016. This would again give Trump a very good chance of winning renomination. Recall that in 2016, Trump outlasted the rest of the Republican field for two reasons. First, he had a strong and dedicated base of support that was substantial. Second, the opposition was fractured between multiple apparently credible candidates such as Scott Walker and Jeb Bush.

It could be that 2016 was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the former president, and that his victory over Hillary Clinton was more a function of Clinton’s weaknesses than his strengths.

This is something Republican voters will have to process and consider going forward. And based on the rapid shift in polling since November 8, it appears that many of them are already doing so.

Democrats: As Republicans worry about whom they will nominate, Democrats are attempting to revolutionize their nominating calendar. It is not going to happen quietly.

For Democrats, it is no longer woke enough to let the almost all-white states of Iowa and New Hampshire vote and caucus first for the nominees. As their party begins to bleed Hispanic support, Democrats are afraid about their near-monopoly on the black vote. And so after many decades, they finally feel obligated to let a state with a large black population — South Carolina, specifically — vote first. It bears noting that the traditional presidential calendar did not prevent South Carolina from effectively choosing the Democratic nominee in 2020 anyway.

New Hampshire is almost certain to defy the party and hold its primary first — that is, after all, state law, that New Hampshire must go first. There may be a penalty involved in the form of a loss of delegates.

The stated intention of the Democrats’ party rule-change is to “ensure that voters of color have a choice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process.” But there is a risk that the state parties will not cooperate. Whereas Democrats already have lost too much ground and have little hope of winning in Iowa, they have been winning New Hampshire in presidential races (sometimes only narrowly) ever since 2004. There could be negative consequences from such a move to disempower Granite Staters in favor of a state that never even comes close to voting for Democrats anymore.

Senate 2022

Georgia: Voters in Tuesday’s runoff have shattered the one-day record for early voting, beating even the best day of the presidential year 2016. This is probably bad news for Republicans and Herschel Walker, as the early vote is the Democrats’ preferred strategy for getting their vote out, whereas Republicans are more likely to vote on Election Day.

Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who has been stumping and cutting ads for Walker, remarked that it is very hard to knock off an incumbent, but that there’s always a chance if you can force that incumbent into a runoff. In contrast, Georgia’s lieutenant Governor, Geoff Duncan, is already trashing Walker as “One of the worst Republican candidates in our party’s history.” But one man’s scornful words don’t mean he can’t win. Polls show Walker in a very close race with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, and before 2021, Republicans tended to enjoy a turnout advantage in runoffs.

Then again, that ended in 2021, when Democrats vastly exceeded expectations with their runoff turnout. This was key to their takeover of the U.S. Senate in the two Georgia Senate runoffs of January 5, 2021. That is why, as election day approaches, Warnock has a small edge. Leaning Democratic Retention.