His RNC candidate won, but his leads are shrinking

US President Donald Trump gestures during a rally at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville, Wisconsin on October 17, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

January 30, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 5

  • A survey of national polling: Trump’s leads are getting smaller
  • New Hampshire was Trump country in 2016; mixed results today 
  • Is running for president an act of “disloyalty?”

President 2024

RNC election: Former President Donald Trump scored a minor victory when his hand-picked and endorsed candidate, Ronna McDaniel, was re-elected as chairwoman of the Republican National Committee with more than two-thirds of the votes. 

Her re-election was widely expected, so this was not a surprise to anyone. The main reason this could be seen as a victory for Trump is that his chief rival for the presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), had vaguely voiced some support for replacing McDaniel in a recent interview.

DeSantis fell far short of endorsing McDaniel’s rival, Harmeet Dhillon — his exact words were, “I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC” — but that is enough to consider this a limited victory for Trump, who got his way once again. 

McDaniel’s win will have little effect on the primary process itself. It was a sign of confidence that top Republican Party officials do not blame her for the string of election disappointments since 2016.

Meanwhile, one of McDaniel’s arguments for her own candidacy was that she is close enough to Trump that she could prevent him from launching an independent spoiler bid for president if he failed to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. It is anyone’s guess how many members of the committee acted based on this consideration.

National polling: Although Trump’s situation in national polls has generally remained on the positive side of the ledger, his leads, once taken for granted, have been shrinking. 

Echelon’s newest survey has him leading DeSantis, 36% to 34%, with former vice president Mike Pence In third place at 8%. 

As in 2016, Trump does better with independent voters than he does with Republicans. In fact, he trails DeSantis with Republican voters, 48% to 44%.

Another important consideration: Trump’s favorability is 27 points underwater (25%/62% fav/unfav) with the entire electorate — not only worse than his chief rival (DeSantis’ is positive at 39%/37%), but also worse than the Republican Party as a whole (37%/56%).

Trump also trails President Biden in a hypothetical 2024 matchup (45%-42%), whereas Ron DeSantis leads Biden by exactly the same margin.

Another note: 46% of respondents could not identify Ron DeSantis by his photograph. This suggests that there is still a lot of upside potential to his candidacy. 

A separate poll from Marquette has DeSantis trouncing Trump in a head-to-head primary contest, 64% to 36%. This is also the first Marquette poll to show DeSantis defeating Joe Biden, 45% to 38%. Trump ties Biden, 40%-40%. The two Republicans are roughly tied with favorability ratings of about 70% among Republicans.

New Hampshire: After he lost Iowa in 2016, Trump’s candidacy was saved by his his convincing 19-point win in New Hampshire. New polls suggest he has more to worry about this time.

There are now dueling polls in New Hampshire between Trump, who announced his candidacy last year, and DeSantis, who has yet to announce but seems very likely to do so.

One, from the University of New Hampshire, shows Trump trailing in New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary, and this time not just in a head-to-head matchup against DeSantis. In this poll, Trump actually trails in a crowded field of 13 well-known Republican candidates such as Mike Pence and Glenn Youngkin. The poll shows DeSantis with 42%, Trump with 30%, and Nikki Haley with 8%. Arguably the more important finding is that Trump’s support in this UNH poll has been rolling downhill quickly for nearly two years now. He has slid from 47% (July 2021) to 43% (October 2021) to 37% (June 2022) to 30% now. DeSantis’ support has more than doubled during the same period, and he hasn’t even announced his candidacy yet.

The other survey, from the New Hampshire Journal, shows Trump at 37% and DeSantis trailing at 26%. The discrepancy between the two polls may come chiefly from the fact that this poll also includes New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), the hometown favorite, with 13%. Sununu recently hinted that he might run, but it is unclear how serious or committed he is to such an effort. This survey also shows that Granite State Republican voters under age 45 especially want someone besides Trump, but voters over 45 favor him.

These polls show nothing conclusive, of course, but they do serve as a reminder that there is no national primary. National primary polls could be misleading. 

Democrats: That same New Hampshire Journal poll shows President Biden with a pathetic 25% support in a hypothetical democratic primary, just two points ahead of his vice president, Kamala Harris. She almost certainly won’t be running, and neither will third-place finisher Pete Buttigieg any of the other politicians named in the poll. But this is a clear sign that Democratic voters are as depressed as ever about their incumbent and his chances of winning again in 2024.

Loyalty: Former President Trump has once again publicly and loudly criticized his potential 2024 opponents for being “very disloyal.” In the case of DeSantis, he argued that the governor should stay out of the presidential race because Trump’s endorsement helped him become governor of Florida in the first place.

But the decision about whether to run for president isn’t really ever about loyalty to individuals. For example, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio might have been ideological allies or even friends in 2016, but they did not shy away from running against one another for president.  

If the decision to run is ever about loyalty, it’s almost always about loyalty to party — as, for example, when people decline to run against an incumbent in their own party, as many Democrats have done this year.

In this case, on the Republican side in 2024, the decision to run is not about loyalty at all. It is about politics, ambition, personal viability as a candidate, and opportunity. Trump has decided that he wants to be president again and he thinks he can win — that’s why he’s running. Others will have to make the same decision. These are the bases on which DeSantis, Haley, and others will make their choice, not based on how they feel about Trump.

Senate 2024

California: Rep. Adam Schiff (D), newly famous in left-wing circles for his work during impeachment and the Russia collusion hoax, has put his hat in the ring for Diane Feinstein‘s Senate seat, alongside Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. Nobody has waited for or seems that interested in what Feinstein herself will decide to do, although the popular wisdom is that she will not run.

Michigan: Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D) appears to be running for this open Senate seat, in turn opening up a potentially very winnable House seat for Republicans. In the meantime, Rep. Dale Kildee (D) is not running.

Texas: Despite his support for congressional term limits that include a cap of two terms in the Senate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) said in November that he will be running for a third Senate term. This doesn’t necessarily prevent him from making another bid for president, but it’s unlikely he can do both. 

Recall that Cruz barely scraped by in the strong Democratic year of 2018 by less than 3 points. That is quite significant for a Republican in Texas. If he runs for re-election, he will probably have to focus on that exclusively. As losing presidential candidates so often do do, Cruz did a lot of damage to his brand with his 2016 run. 

Republicans continued to gain ground in South Texas in the recent elections — indeed, it was one of the few places where the races went quite well. But as unlikely as it seems, the Lone Star State could become the soft underbelly of the Republican coalition in 2024, if things somehow go wrong.