This is becoming a less and less original topic lately, but the idea of former President Donald Trump trailing anybody in a poll of Republican voters would have been astounding just 40 days ago. Now, it’s starting to become commonplace.
Just over a week ago, the Marquette University law school published a national poll that showed both Republican (55%-45%) and independent Republican-leaning registered voters (60%-40%) favoring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over Trump in a head-to-head primary matchup.
Well, on Thursday, the Yahoo News/YouGov poll again showed DeSantis leading Trump among Republican voters, this time 47% to 42%. Before the election, in mid-October, the same poll had shown Trump leading in such a matchup, 45% to 36%. That marks a 14-point swing in DeSantis’s favor in less than two months.
This doesn’t mean Trump can’t still win the nomination. Recall that in 2016, he triumphed because the field opposing him was fractured between so many conventional Republican candidates. At a critical moment, nobody was willing to drop out and stop paying their consultants millions of dollars a month — er, sorry, I mean, willing to get behind a single conservative opponent who could stop Trump.
But this poll is just one more data point showing that the Trump juggernaut is not the unstoppable force we all assumed it would be inside the confines of the 2024 Republican primary process. You can see this in the fact that fewer Republican officials are afraid of being stomped by Trump and brigaded by his fans on Twitter. And every time you see a new headline about who he’s dining with or a new stolen election conspiracy theory, you have to ask yourself: do I want to spend the next six years cleaning up this guy’s messes, only to have him (assuming he doesn’t lose to Biden, which he probably would) termed out in 2028?
I think that sentiment is shared more broadly than a lot of Republican voters would publicly admit. That’s why polls keep popping up suggesting that Trump is not the leader in a national primary race (admittedly, there’s no such thing) or, more importantly, that he trails by a significant margin in one of several key states, including early presidential primary states. It also turns out that Trump would lose Georgia to Joe Biden all over again (DeSantis leads Biden in Georgia, 47% to 44%). In short, the Trump train is not what it used to be.
Until recently, you would not have even thought of Trump in 2022 the way most Republicans did in late 2015 and early 2016 — as somebody who can only win if there is a sufficiently divided Republican field. Right up until the disaster of the 2022 midterm, he seemed invincible. Now it’s clear that he bleeds.