Trump wheezes into the 2024 presidential race
Itching to announce for months, former President Trump Tuesday night finally made the worst-kept non-secret in politics public. The surprise was how dull and desultory his official return was.
Trump made a decent speech for Republicans, at least for the first 10 minutes, but it soon degenerated into a tedious drone — so bad even Fox News wouldn’t leave it on the air and cut away to commentators, as Trump continued on — muted — in the corner of the screen.
Trump offered nothing new, except blaming China for his 2020 defeat and saying American would send a man to Mars. (Some Republican leaders might have a name to suggest.)
If Trump thought his candidacy would start with a bang, he was way off. The event was a dud: a pedestrian entrance, predictable staging, total lack of star power, lackluster delivery of an uninspiring teleprompter speech. The whole thing felt like the announcement for some also-ran Midwestern governor about to be ground out of the race.
Even at Mar-a-Lago, faithful attendees grew weary of the droning and moved toward the exits — where security prevented them from leaving. It was literally a captive audience.
Trump has lost his main political asset: the view that he is a winner. As he wallows in a miasma of rage and self-pity, he’s become a loser — at one point in the speech he actually said, “I’m a victim.” There is no need to rehash the midterm elections. It’s clear to all but the most credulous acolyte that he was rejected thoroughly.
Everything about Trump’s schtick is tired.
And announcing this early, he will have to run a marathon.
When Trump announced in 2016, it was just seven and a half months to the first contest, and he was able to blitz an inexperienced crowd of Republican hopefuls.
Low energy is just the start of his problems.
With the “loser” label, Trump’s ability to intimidate Republican elected officials and leaders is rapidly slipping away. Conservative activists, who see him as responsible for losses that will enable the progressive left, no longer feel the need to kowtow.
Worse for Trump, all the people he has harassed, hectored and undercut now have room to take their revenge — and they can now do it without being cast in with the discredited “Never Trump” crowd.
It’s ironic that a man who so forcefully demands loyalty is the biggest back-stabber in American politics. But now Trump is about to pay the price. From former Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to jilted Alabama Senate candidate Mo Brooks, the list of abused victims speaking up is long indeed.
Leader by default no more
What propped up Trump for so long was his ability to dominate the airwaves and leave no room for any other Republican. Any GOP elected official with the temerity to push his or her way on the national stage had to be a complete Trump loyalist. But the stench of losing and the sheer boredom has degraded Trump’s position and allowed others to come forward — and the main beneficiary is Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
As I noted in July, Trump’s polling has revealed much more weakness than the media and pundits realize. For over a year, his approval rating with Republicans has been far ahead of how many Republicans actually want him to run for president again. In the recent YouGov benchmark, Trump’s approval was at 81 percent in the GOP, but just 60 percent of them wanted him to run. A fall-off of over 20 points means people are looking for someone else.
Republican leaders, donors and activists seem to have found that someone in DeSantis.
Slowly, but surely, so have the voters.
The Trump v. DeSantis polls are looking terrible for Trump. With practically 100 percent name recognition and over 80 percent approval, Trump should be breezing to the GOP nomination — but both national polling and state-by-state primary polls are not good.
In Republican primary polling, Trump is having a hard time topping 50 percent. He has even fallen behind DeSantis in a recent YouGov poll, 42 percent to 35 percent. Worse, Trump is losing in recent state primary polling. The Club for Growth polls have Trump lagging DeSantis in Iowa, New Hampshire, Georgia and Florida. A CWS Research poll in Texas has DeSantis leading Trump by 11 points.
The worst polling is in Florida, where DeSantis has led Trump in every poll since Summer 2022. The reason why the Florida polling is such a problem is that it is the one state where Republican voters know both candidates — and it’s not even close. The most recent Club for Growth poll has DeSantis up a whopping 56 percent to 30 percent.
Georgia on everyone’s mind
In less than three weeks, Georgia voters will decide the senatorial runoff between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and challenger Herschel Walker (R), and the stakes could not be higher for Trump. A Walker loss would be catastrophic. If Walker — Trump’s hand-picked choice — flops, Trump’s loser status will be cemented in place.
The portents are not good. Warnock outpolled Walker in the initial balloting. What’s more, Democrats already have a Senate majority — with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote — leaving GOP voters with less motivation to turn out. Many Democrats, on the other hand, want a better margin in the Senate to relieve them of the drag on their agenda from moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). Even worse for Trump, he powerfully motivates Democratic voters — and it’s unlikely Trump will be able to resist butting into the race. Even if Walker wins in Georgia, Trump is in trouble, and DeSantis is ascendant — but a loss could very well nail the coffin shut on Trump’s political future.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.