‘I don’t see how Trump wins’: Republicans in early primary states question former president’s 2024 viability

Donald Trump, Melania Trump
Former President Donald Trump and former first lady Melania Trump arrive to announce that Trump is running for president for the third time at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik/AP

‘I don’t see how Trump wins’: Republicans in early primary states question former president’s 2024 viability

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LAS VEGAS — Donald Trump is a polarizing incumbent retread and no longer the outsider change agent who took the Republican Party by storm seven years ago, complicating the former president’s road to the White House in 2024.

As Republicans poised to challenge Trump for the presidential nomination prepare to gather in Las Vegas for a Republican Jewish Coalition conference, GOP activists and insiders in the key early primary states say the appetite for fresh leadership is growing. The desire to move past Trump after the party’s disappointing finish in midterm elections is percolating in Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina — even Iowa, where the former president won big, twice, and has always been popular.

“I don’t see the art of personal destruction as being our winning platform in 2024. I don’t see how [Trump] wins. I think the midterms sent the message,” Bob Vander Plaats, a political activist who runs the Family Leader, an influential conservative group in Iowa, told the Washington Examiner. “America has made up its mind on Trump. Winning the nomination is one thing; winning the presidency is another.”

“Voters are tired of the drama and looking for whoever they feel can deliver,” added Brett Barker, Republican chairman in Story County, Iowa. The Hawkeye State presidential nominating caucuses mark the kickoff of primary season for the GOP.

Trump announced his third consecutive presidential bid Tuesday evening, delivering a low-key speech before a throng of supporters at Mar-a-Lago, his residence and private social club in Palm Beach, Florida. The former president’s remarks were light on insults directed toward political enemies and only subtly touched on his unsubstantiated claims that his loss to now-President Joe Biden in 2020 was the result of massive fraud. But Trump presented nothing new.

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The 45th president’s hour-plus-long address amounted to a greatest hits album. He recounted achievements from his administration and vowed to revive the same agenda to “make America great again,” again, interrupting himself periodically to offer unscripted political observations. Trump cited his familiar positions on trade, immigration, the economy, and foreign policy, the only difference being that he sought to contrast his agenda with Biden’s rather than Hillary Clinton’s or Barack Obama’s.

Trump supporters were pleased. “Pitch perfect Mr. President. Game on Joe Biden,” Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition, tweeted, in praise echoed throughout the universe of the former president’s strongest backers.

The broader Republican Party, from the insiders to the activists to the voters, is certainly grateful for Trump’s accomplishments as president and would have preferred he was reelected in 2020. But after the former president, as titular head of the GOP, presided over a third consecutive electoral disappointment, with his endorsed candidates losing in crucial contests, vocal opposition to his 2024 bid, and demands for a change candidate, are rising.

It’s not just Republican insiders or activists interested in turning the page.

Polls, plural, conducted in the wake of the midterm elections show GOP voters are looking for someone new to challenge Biden, or whomever the Democratic nominee will be two years from now. Chief among the Republicans garnering the interest of GOP Republican voters is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), reelected last week in a landslide. DeSantis is scheduled to keynote the closing speech of the Republican Jewish Coalition conference here Saturday evening.

“There are some die-hard Trump backers,” David Carney, a veteran Republican strategist in New Hampshire, said of the former president’s support in the Granite State, host of the second contest on the GOP’s nominating calendar. “But most folks are looking forward to kicking the tires and maybe test-driving some of the newer models.”

Trump’s relationship with the Republican base has been remarkably durable, surviving the Democratic wave in the 2018 midterm elections and the party’s loss of the White House and the Senate in 2020 — and the Jan. 6, 2021, ransacking of the Capitol. Polls heading into this year’s midterm elections, and the former president’s presumed 2024 reveal, showed him the undisputed front-runner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. Underestimating Trump is fraught with peril.

However, the 2024 surveys conducted since Nov. 8 look much different than those fielded prior, with voters questioning Trump’s fixation on the last presidential election and fondness for mudslinging. In the 2022 midterm elections, Trump-inspired candidates, plus those the former president endorsed, many of whom relied on personal attacks and parroted his stolen election claims, lost contests that cost the GOP opportunities to win the Senate majority and win governor’s mansions in critical swing states.

Fresh polling shows DeSantis leading Trump by more than 20 percentage points in Iowa and New Hampshire, by more than 10 points in Nevada, by more than 25 points in Florida, and by 20 points in Georgia. DeSantis also led Trump 34% to 26% in a national survey of Republican voters who participated in the midterm elections. Perhaps more ominous for the former president, DeSantis garnered higher favorable ratings: 66% “very favorable” versus Trump’s 44%.

Brendan Buck, a Republican operative whose firm, Seven Letter, sponsored the national poll, emphasized that he is not predicting Trump’s demise. But Buck said the data from the poll suggest, “for the first time, an openness to something new because I think people eventually get tired of the same thing, and they want to be excited again.” DeSantis, he said, is the primary reason many GOP voters are beginning to look beyond Trump.

“Ron DeSantis has excited a lot of people, and ultimately, that’s what successful campaigns turn on,” Buck said. “Maybe we’ve seen this show a few too many times, and it’s not giving us the thrill it once did.”

Ambitious Republicans smell blood.

“We need more seriousness, less noise, and leaders who are looking forward, not staring in the rearview mirror claiming victimhood,” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted after Trump’s speech, in what appeared to be a direct response to the former president’s claim, made during the address, that he is “a victim” of political persecution.

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Ambitious Republicans eyeing a White House bid, Pompeo among them, are presumably looking at Trump’s unusually precarious standing in the party and feeling emboldened to challenge him for the nomination. That is something they might have shied away from doing just 10 days ago. How emboldened are they? They could send strong 2024 smoke signals this week in Las Vegas at the Republican Jewish Coalition annual leadership meeting.

The roster of scheduled headliners includes DeSantis, Pompeo, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin was set to appear as well but canceled to deal with the tragic shooting at the University of Virginia.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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