Former President Donald Trump could not wait until after the Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia to announce for president in 2024. This was a mistake, as was his decision to tease the announcement before the Nov. 8 election had taken place.
But the reception of his presidential announcement was unlike anything Trump had encountered before, in my view. The establishment media treated it as something boring. Trump has been accused of a lot of things before, but never boring.
What might be more interesting is the ambivalent reaction by conservatives — even by some of Trump’s biggest fans, who insist that he stay as far away as possible from Georgia during the runoff election.
There was an important piece of information in the election exit polls that I think hasn’t been remarked upon enough. People have been quick to blame Trump for the losing candidates he endorsed and for teasing his 2024 announcement before the election, but the voters’ views of him have received a lot less attention.
Everybody believed, going into this election, that President Joe Biden would be a dead weight on Democratic candidates everywhere, given his high unpopularity ratings. And indeed, he probably was. Biden was viewed favorably by only 41% of voters, compared to 56% who viewed him unfavorably. That’s a net rating of negative 15 points and surely a bad thing for Democrats.
The problem is Trump’s numbers with those same 2022 voters were even worse. Fifty-eight percent of people view Trump unfavorably, compared to 39% favorably — a net rating of negative 19 points, according to the exit polling. And Trump is the best-known politician in American politics — let’s not pretend he’s going to become more popular over the next 12 months.
The election of 2016, with its thoroughly unexpected result, has created the expectation in some people that Trump can overcome anything. I think it also convinced some people that Trump was the only person who could have beaten Hillary Clinton.
But I think it’s very much the other way around. Clinton was the only person who could have lost to Trump. Just remember, even in that stunning victory, Trump underperformed Republican Senate candidates in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all of which were probably a sign of things to come in 2020. He also underperformed 2016 Senate candidates in North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida, which he won in 2020, as well as New Hampshire, which he lost both times.
To see Trump struggling to maintain relevance now is something unlike anything that occurred in his candidacy in 2015. You have to wonder whether Trump’s success wasn’t just a one-time thing — something that could never be repeated.
This is not to say that Trump hasn’t won something. He has changed the nature of Republican politics and helped begin the process of realigning both the working-class and Hispanic voters with the GOP. But even Trump’s biggest fans need to be asking themselves now whether it’s worth taking a chance on him personally — on someone who is even less popular than the deservedly very unpopular Biden.