2024 frontrunner tussle gets interesting
The 2024 presidential race begins with two unpopular frontrunners. Among registered voters polled nationwide by Quinnipiac after the midterm election, a majority (52 percent) had an unfavorable opinion of President Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. And 54 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.
Biden’s problem? Most Americans call him a weak leader (56 percent in a post-midterm YouGov poll). Trump’s problem? Character. In a Gallup poll taken during the 2020 campaign, only 40 percent said Trump is honest and trustworthy. Trump’s own vice president recently called attention to Trump’s character flaws. “People in this country actually get along pretty well once you get out of politics,” Mike Pence said on ABC News. “And I think they want to see that same compassion and generosity of spirit.”
Generosity of spirit is not a trait most people would associate with Donald Trump. Generosity of spirit was precisely the quality that made Ronald Reagan a beloved figure, even among those who disagreed with him.
Conservatives value strength and toughness much more than generosity of spirit, which is the principal reason Trump has retained a loyal base of supporters.
The 2022 midterm, however, exposed problems that endanger Trump’s standing in the Republican Party. One of them is his obsession with grievance politics. In his speech announcing his candidacy this month, Trump sounded like anything but a happy warrior. He said, “We will be resisted by the combined forces of the establishment, the media, the special interests, the globalists, the Marxist radicals, the corporations, the weaponized power of the federal government, the colossal political machines, the tidal wave of dark money and the most dangerous domestic censorship system ever created.” Whew!
Trump is, in fact, the target of five separate civil and criminal investigations, any one of which could bring him down. “I’m a victim,” he said in his announcement speech. “I will tell you I’m a victim.’’
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state and potential competitor for the 2024 nomination, responded by tweeting that Republicans need “leaders who are looking forward, not staring in the rearview mirror claiming victimhood.”
Trump ended up as the big loser of the 2022 midterm. He endorsed Republican candidates because they were personally loyal to him, not because they were electable. According to the New York Times, Trump endorsed five Republican candidates in the most competitive House races — and they all lost. In the battleground states, candidates running to be top election officials and who supported his denial of the 2020 results all lost.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican and longtime Trump critic, said about Trump on CNN, “I’m tired of losing. That’s all he’s done.” Under Trump, Republicans lost the House of Representatives in 2018, the White House and Senate in 2020 and failed to make expected gains in 2022. Some of the party’s biggest donors have started coming out against Trump for 2024. They want to put their money on a winner.
The big Republican winner in the midterm was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won a landslide victory in the nation’s third largest state. As a result, DeSantis has risen in polls of Republican presidential primary voters (from 18 percent in August to 26 percent now, while support for Trump has declined from 57 to 48 percent). There are no big issue differences between Trump and DeSantis — they are both conservative culture warriors — but DeSantis is now seen as a winner. He’s Trumpism without Trump.
As governor, DeSantis delights in provoking liberals. He has picked fights with the Walt Disney Company, a major Florida employer, over a law banning teaching young students about sexual orientation and gender identity. He sent a planeload of illegal immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., a renowned liberal retreat. He proudly declares Florida the state “where ‘woke’ goes to die.”
Not much generosity of spirit there.
On the Democratic side, no candidate has emerged to challenge President Biden for renomination. No candidate in either party has ever defeated an incumbent president for renomination by his own party (Ronald Reagan failed in 1976. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy failed in 1980.) Biden does have a big issue going for him: Donald Trump. Biden is the only politician who has ever defeated Trump.
Interviewed on CNN last month, Biden was asked, “Is one of your calculations that you think you’re the only one who can beat Donald Trump?” Biden’s response: “I believe I can beat Donald Trump again.”
Which is exactly why Biden’s aides are concerned about Trump’s loss of status in the Republican Party. Biden will be 81 years old in 2024. DeSantis will be 46.