NYT poll: Nearly half of Republicans are ready for a different nominee in 2024

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

I led with the good news for anti-Trumpers and/or DeSantis fans in the headline but the truth is that this survey is bad news if you’re hoping for a different nominee in 2024.

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It’s less “glass half full/glass half empty” than “glass a quarter full/glass three quarters empty.”

Yes, right, Trump is under 50 percent among Republicans when they’re asked whom they prefer as their next presidential candidate. And we can expect his position to erode a bit more as DeSantis piles up policy wins and cruises to reelection in Florida, as expected. But having the former guy on the precipice of 50 percent after weeks of January 6 revelations that further exposed the travesty of the “stop the steal” campaign is discouraging, particularly amid rumors that he’s about to announce his candidacy and campaign in earnest. And having the rest of the field split evenly between DeSantis and also-rans points towards the same collective action problem in 2024 that cleared Trump’s path in 2016. If anti-Trumpers can’t unite behind a single alternative, he’s going to win. Even if he does it with a plurality.

Add up the numbers for the five non-Trump candidates and you get 46 percent, less than Trump’s haul. As diminished as he is, he still outpolls the rest of the field combined.

Note the demographic divisions too. DeSantis leads among Republican college grads (albeit by not enough) whereas Trump swamps him among those without degrees. “It’s a working-class party now!” populist Republicans like to say. Yes, and the working class prefers the coup-plotter.

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To grasp how resilient his support is despite 18 months of him whining insanely about a stolen election, have a look at this new data from Morning Consult. It’s somehow more depressing than the Times poll:

Democrats are more willing to change gears in 2024 than Republicans are even though only the latter party’s prospective nominee has proved himself to be a threat to democracy. Trump’s position relative to DeSantis has actually *risen* in Morning Consult’s polling since Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony before the January 6 committee, inching up one point to 54 percent while DeSantis has dipped three points to 19.

Meanwhile, 56 percent of American voters — a solid majority — told Morning Consult that they believe Trump committed a crime by trying to overturn the 2020 election. That’s what Republican voters want to triple down on in 2024 despite facing a Democratic Party that’s adrift and ripe for a beating at the polls.

The momentous question for Republicans in 2024 is this: Is there any way to avoid fracturing the party before the general election?

If DeSantis beats Trump in the primary, Trump will do what he always does when he loses. He’ll whine about phantom cheating, make some vague threats about how his “people” might riot over how he’s been treated, and maybe insist on running as an independent or write-in candidate in the general election to play spoiler. If he can take 10 percent of the Republican base with him, DeSantis is a dead duck against Biden or even Harris. That’s always been the core argument against challenging him in a primary — he’s such a selfish sore loser that even if you win, he’ll try to spite you by blowing up your chances at the presidency.

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I’m not as sure as I used to be that that gambit would succeed, though. Trump will try it, for sure. But if the choice in November boils down to four more years of Biden malaise or an energetic young governor who delivers most of the populist red meat that Trump voters crave, will they really stay home and hand the election to Democrats? There are two moral imperatives among righty populists, loyalty to Trump and owning the libs. What happens when those two imperatives conflict directly, as they will in 2024 if Trump tries to blow up the GOP out of vindictiveness?

But it cuts the other way too. As much as has been said and written about Trumpers wrecking the party if their guy loses the primary, it’s worth considering how far *anti-Trumpers* might go to wreck the party if he wins. Republican crossover votes helped Biden to victory in 2020 and those votes were cast before the country got to see how deranged Trump would become as he tried to cope with his defeat. How many more crossover votes might there be next time? If there’s a hard core of, say, 10 percent of Republicans who won’t vote for Trump going forward under any circumstances then he’s as nonviable in a general election as DeSantis would be with Trump running as an independent. Maybe more so, since much of that 10 percent might cross over to vote Democratic instead of third party.

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The Times’s data on the extent of anti-Trump sentiment among Republicans is mixed. On the one hand, 65 percent of those who support a different nominee in 2024 continue to view Trump favorably. It’s not as if the DeSantis voters won’t back him again if he wins the primary. On the other hand:

A growing anyone-but-Trump vote inside the party contributed to Mr. Trump’s deficit, with 16 percent of Republicans saying that if he were the nominee they would support Mr. Biden, would back a third-party candidate, wouldn’t vote at all or remained unsure what they would do. That compared to 8 percent of Democrats who said they would similarly abandon Mr. Biden in a matchup with Mr. Trump.

In 2020, 9 percent of Republicans voted for someone other than Mr. Trump, while Mr. Biden lost just 4 percent of Democrats, according to AP VoteCast, a large study of the 2020 electorate by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press…

Among Republicans who said they plan to vote against Mr. Trump in a primary, 32 percent said the former president’s actions threatened American democracy.

Any Republican would stand a solid chance against Biden or Kamala Harris in a general election, Trump included, but so many members of his own party now view him as a threat to the country’s stability that he might prove unelectable. Remember, even in yesterday’s Democratic doom poll from the Times, Joe “33 percent” Biden led Trump by three points.

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As grim as things look for Dems in 2024, then, they arguably look grimmer for Republicans if Trump insists on running and behaves Trumpily. If he stands aside or loses the primary and then graciously endorses the winner, the GOP will be firing on all cylinders. If he runs and wins or runs, loses, and then throws a fit, the party’s in trouble.

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David Strom 10:40 AM | April 12, 2024
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