As Biden falters, a two-man race for the 2024 GOP nomination begins to take shape
As the Biden administration falters, it is prime time for former President Trump to rally the MAGA-faithful contrasting Biden’s “weakness” with Trump’s “strength.” The Hill reported that Trump is planning rallies in Georgia and Iowa. Both events will offer Trump a boisterous platform to repeat his nearly daily calls for Biden to resign, prompted by the Afghanistan debacle.
Symbolically a Trump rally in Iowa – where the nation’s first 2024 nominating contest is held – helps dispel the notion that the former president is only flirting with a second attempt to win his second term in order to stay relevant. More evidence: Trump’s Save America PAC recently hired two Iowa-based political consultants.
But is Trump being realistic about 2024? The answer is yes, based on what an elderly Trump supporter told me last week that could be a representative feeling: “I have never feared for my country more than I do now. Bring back Trump!”
Undoubtedly his rallies will reinforce the current Republican Party branding message repeated hourly in the conservative media bubble: Biden is in mental decline. He can’t handle multiple crises and has lost situational control. Opinion is truth for loyal viewers and readers who feed off that circular media diet, where distinguishing truth from spin is nearly impossible. (A statement that applies equally to the left.)
Although the former president appears ready to lead the Republican Party to a 2024 victory, he lacks a majority of base support and could tear the party apart. Let’s examine some recent polling data supporting that fear.
In July, Tony Fabrizio (Trump’s 2016 campaign pollster) surveyed 800 registered Republicans, asking who they would vote for if the GOP presidential primary were held today. The results of this normally meaningless way-to-early question provided a revealing snapshot of future party leadership.
As expected, two names thoroughly dominated: Trump won 47 percent, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earned 19 percent. Interestingly, the 13 percent who were “undecided” exceeded the 8 percent who chose former Vice President Mike Pence and the paltry 3 percent supporting Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) attracted just 2 percent, but double the 1 percent earned by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
With Trump stealing much of the thunder from DeSantis, the poll does not reflect base voters’ high expectations and enthusiasm for the 43-year-old governor, a rising national star.
Never in my decades of Republican Party involvement have I seen an officeholder so early in the presidential cycle elicit such unified hope for the party’s future. DeSantis’s “it factor” reminds me of the early hope and change that young Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) inspired among Democrats.
Fabrizio’s poll captures some of DeSantis’s popularity. Without Trump on the list, he wins 39 percent of GOP voters, walloping Pence at 15 percent, who is eclipsed by 20 percent “undecided.”
Most significant is how the Fox News Channel seems to have anointed DeSantis as Trump’s heir apparent while reducing the former president’s screentime.
Given the combined 66 percent of GOP voters who chose either Trump or DeSantis in Fabrizio’s poll, there is a strong assumption that one of these two Florida men will win the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, 2024 is three years away and might as well be three centuries away because anything can happen to change the political landscape. DeSantis in particular runs the risk of peaking too early.
That said, from a GOP base perspective, even if DeSantis lost his 2022 gubernatorial reelection, he might not lose much 2024 national momentum. That’s because DeSantis would have more time to spend on the presidential primary and general election trails without concurrently having to run the pesky, unruly state of Florida.
Such a loss assessment is plausible after a recent poll showed DeSantis in a statistical deadheat with Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), a former Republican governor who first must win his Democratic primary.
Ultimately, DeSantis has the fighting personality and tough-guy image that Republican voters love about Trump. A slogan on his 2022 campaign merchandise reads, “DeSantis — “Keep Florida Free.” For 2024 that could change to “DeSantis — Keep America Free.”
But America, DeSantis and the Republican Party are not free of Trump. A loyal GOP Trump voter from Georgia recently told me, “I wish Trump would get out of the way for DeSantis.”
More than half of GOP base voters believe that sentiment reflects the party’s past, present and future.
Myra Adams writes about politics and religion for numerous publications. She is a RealClearPolitics contributor and served on the creative team of two GOP presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008. Follow her on Twitter @MyraKAdams.