Trump’s Republican opponents fear party is not ready to move forward

Election 2024 Trump
Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, in Waco, Texas, Saturday, March 25, 2023, while en route to West Palm Beach, Florida. Evan Vucci/AP

Trump’s Republican opponents fear party is not ready to move forward

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Several Republicans who are hoping to move on from former President Donald Trump are resigning to the fact that he may be the nominee for the party in 2024 as support for the former president increases.

Despite looming indictments and federal and state investigations, Trump is still favored in several polls over Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who has not announced a presidential bid. In other polls, particularly for early primary states, the pair is either trading leads or is neck and neck with each other.

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Trump’s growing popularity has served as a reminder for Republicans that he maintains a tight grip on the Republican Party, aided by his vocal MAGA supporters. Some Republican strategists have pointed to the polls as a sign that it will be difficult to push Trump out of the primary in 2024.

“He’s still the guy to beat,” former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist, told the Hill. “He’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room. If the election were held today, he’d most likely win.”

“There are a lot of Trump supporters who wouldn’t mind seeing a new generation come in, someone with less baggage,” he added. “But right now, no one is really making that comparison because everyone else in the race is just kind of noise. Nobody has really announced that’s put a dent in things.”

Republicans who are in the presidential race, besides Trump, are former Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Heavy speculation is surrounding DeSantis and former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and whether they will announce their entries into the 2024 race sometime within the next few months.

A Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll released Monday and conducted March 22-23 showed that 50% of Republicans planned to vote for Trump in the primary, marking a 4-point gain for the former president since February. DeSantis pulled 24% of the vote, according to the poll.

“Old habits are hard to break, I guess,” one Republican strategist who’s opposing Trump in the 2024 primary told the Hill. “I think if you do write him off, you’re writing him off at your own peril. His supporters are loyal. He has a broad base.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, Haley, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) all received below 10% of the vote in the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll.

Support for Trump among Republicans rose significantly since the announcement of a possible indictment from a Manhattan grand jury looking into hush money payments that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.

It is possible that an indictment could also swing in favor of other GOP contenders in the long term because candidates can use their lack of criminal charges against them as a bolstering point in the primary — something DeSantis already has claimed.

Polls in early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire predict Trump may have a harder time gaining the votes. In Iowa, DeSantis leads 45% to 37% and is dead even with Trump in New Hampshire at 39% each.

Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster, said that “the polls right now are all over the place,” but he added that any candidate, declared or undeclared, hoping to emerge as a top contender in the 2024 primary will have to overcome Trump’s hold on a significant portion of the GOP.

“About one-third are always-Trump voters, and they’ll walk through a wall of flames for him,” Ayres said. “They’re locked in for him regardless of whoever gets in the field. The other 60% are maybe-Trump voters.”

He added: “The question is whether anyone can consolidate that 60% of maybe Trump voters who are open to somebody else.”

Republican strategists believe there are still enough situations blackening Trump’s record to keep him from the White House, several of which are self-inflicted. The former president continues to bring up voter fraud claims from the 2020 election and pushes the blame for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on Pence or other lawmakers.

Special counsel Jack Smith is also overseeing two Justice Department investigations into Trump: one on the classified documents discovered at his Florida home in August and another looking into actions taken by the former president to overturn the 2020 election.

A special grand jury report out of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in Georgia could lead to the indictments of several Trump aides and allies, and even the former president himself, for efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

However, others believe that Trump’s continued public presence in the media will keep him bolstered in the primary.

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“He was always going to be the main threat to win the nomination just because he’s got the name recognition, he’s got a loyal base,” Republican strategist Keith Naughton said. “His opponents have never run nationally before — DeSantis is new to this, Haley is new to this — and that has always been a hard thing to overcome.”

“Trump’s not going to let anyone dictate the course of events,” Naughton added. “He’s very loud, he’s very aggressive, and he’ll say anything to keep himself in the spotlight, and there’s a lot of power in that. He generates clicks.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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