Trump Keeps Up a Huge Early Lead for the GOP Nomination

This Week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 25

  • Kevin McCarthy’s House is functioning again, for now
  • Trump’s legal woes are not affecting his lead
  • Christie is running as the Trump-torpedo


House conservative revolt: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) successfully talked House conservatives off the ledge last week and returned the House to a functioning state. Among other things, he appears to have agreed to lower spending levels than the ones that he and the Democrats had accepted as part of their debt ceiling deal. He has also agreed to continue talking to the conservatives about rescissions of up to $100 billion in unspent money on programs Congress has failed to reauthorize in recent years.

This detente between McCarthy and the right wing of his caucus may or may not last, but in the meantime it at least did allow Republicans to pass several measures that are intended to help their electoral chances next November. This included a measure protecting the gas stove market and pistol braces from new rules proposed or imposed by the Biden administration.

The conservatives have still never openly threatened McCarthy’s hold on the speakership, even though it would only take just one member’s motion to vacate the chair to put his speakership up for a floor vote.

President 2024

Donald Trump: In spite of all his legal troubles, former President Donald Trump continues to dominate polls of the Republican primary for president. The lesson, for now, is that his federal indictment has been no more effective in sapping his support than the earlier state indictment in New York.

Over the weekend, a Harvard-Harris poll showed Trump up 45 points over his next rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The entry of multiple additional Republican candidates (including Mike Pence and Tim Scott) does not seem to have had a significant effect on the race, at least not so far.

On Friday, a poll commissioned  by The Messenger showed him with a 36-point lead over DeSantis, 53 percent to 17 percent. A poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac showed Trump ahead by 30 points, and a poll from USA Today released Tuesday had him up by 25 points.

We could list more polls with similar results, but it would be overkill. The clear lesson is that, so far, Trump’s legal problems are not hurting him at all. And as long as the two (and perhaps soon three) indictments against Trump fail to sink in and change primary voters’ perspectives on the race, Trump is in the driver’s seat and will continue to hold a sizable if not a prohibitive lead. 

In terms of the general election, not much has changed there either, except that a single poll has come out more favorable to Trump than the ones released in previous weeks.

The Harvard-Harris poll has been one of the most friendly to Trump so far this cycle. Last week, it showed him beating President Joe Biden by six points, 45 percent to 39 percent.

This is, however, an outlier. All other national polls released this month show Trump trailing or (in just one case) tied with Biden.

In their apparent determination to make Trump their nominee, Republican voters are taking an enormous risk. Yes, Trump could well win, but he remains an underdog against Biden (in spite of Biden’s massive unpopularity) in the general election. Moreover, his prospects could worsen if the public revelations in any of his trials take a turn for the worse. 

Again, this is not a question about whether his prosecution is fair or good for the country, but rather whether it will sink him politically.

Ron DeSantis: Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a former Trump state chairman and 2022 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, added an explanation to his support for DeSantis just as Florida’s Republican governor was visiting his state over the weekend to campaign at the annual Basque Fry. 

“I don’t see a path for [Trump] to win Nevada in a general election,” Laxalt told NBC News. “Those voters are not coming back.” 

Trump dominated the state’s caucuses in 2016, but the state is moving to a primary format that could be less favorable to him.

Chris Christie: The former New Jersey governor may not have much of a chance of winning the nomination, but it is very clear that Christie is putting himself on a political suicide mission to torpedo Donald Trump. 

This is not to say that he’ll succeed, but expect his campaign to be one attack on Trump after another.

Christie was on television over the weekend savaging Trump for election losses, including not only his own 2020 loss but also the 2018 and 2022 midterm elections. Christie had been the first presidential candidate to drop out and endorse Trump in 2016. The bad blood between himself and Trump reportedly began with Christie’s earlier role in prosecuting the father of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. At this point, it is clearly very personal.

Adam Hutchinson: The former Arkansas governor, whose participation in the race seems at this point destined to be a trivia question rather than a consequential fact, has tried to get the Republican National Committee to relax its requirement for candidates to promise to support the nominee in case Trump is convicted in a criminal trial by the time of the 2024 election.

The party has so far refused any such accommodation. It must do so. If the RNC wants to induce Trump to make such a promise — a precondition for all candidates’ participation in debates — it has to make all the other candidates make such a promise as well.

Governor 2023

Mississippi: Well, this is awkward. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is trying to walk back what sounded to some like an endorsement of the challenger to his separately elected sitting lieutenant governor, Delbert Hosemann (R). That challenger just happens to be state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), best known nationally for his refusal to concede after a narrow primary loss to the late Sen. Thad Cochran (R) in 2014. A poll from Siena college shows Hosemann leading, 47 to 32 percent.

Reeves had said last month that a spirited primary for lieutenant governor would be healthy for the party. 

“We’ve got a conservative candidate running, and they’re going to talk about the issues,” Reeves had said. “and we’ll see how that comes out.”

Perhaps it’s a stretch, but to some local media, this sounded like a comment that Hosemann was not really a conservative. At least one publication characterized it as a “semi-endorsement” of McDaniel.

Senate 2024

California: Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter continue to lead the field in California’s jungle primary to replace the retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), according to a new poll from Emerson College. Meanwhile, not a single Republican gets even 5 percent support. 

Schiff and Porter draw 15 percent and 14 percent support, respectively. Assuming they don’t both make the runoff — that is, assuming that some Republican is capable of coming in second in the jungle primary — one of the two is nearly certain to win the seat and succeed Feinstein. The nightmare scenario for Republicans trying to hang on to multiple California U.S. House seats would be if the two leading Democrats face off next fall.

Montana: Retired Navy SEAL and businessman Tim Sheehy (R), the NRSC’s favored recruit to run against Sen. Jon Tester (D), met with about 20 lobbyists at the offices of Altria in Washington D.C. last week to discuss precisely such a campaign, as Politico reported in a brief item. This may be the best sign yet that he will indeed pull the trigger and run.