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It's happening (again): DeSantis within single digits of Trump in national 2024 poll

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Six days ago, Suffolk uncorked a national poll showing him trailing Trump 43/34. Today YouGov follows suit with its own survey and a nearly identical split, 44/35 in Trump’s favor.

Is anyone still pretending that the threat from DeSantis isn’t real? Trump’s cronies at Mar-a-Lago are duty-bound to talk tough about how he’s invincible in a Republican primary but I promise that none of them believes it, except maybe the man himself. It’s almost certainly the case that Trumpism is invincible, but that’s the question in 2024, isn’t it? If you can get Trumpism from someone more electable than Trump, why wouldn’t you?

The DeSantis number isn’t even the worst one for the former guy in this poll.

[A] majority of registered voters (53%) now say — in the wake of the House select committee’s high-profile Jan. 6 hearings — that Trump should not even be allowed to serve as president again, due to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And even though Trump voters are not openly disparaging their party’s leader in the way Biden voters are, they are hardly unanimous in their support for him.

Case in point: While a narrow majority (again, 53%) of Trump voters do still say he would be the GOP’s strongest candidate in 2024, that means that nearly as many of them say either that he would not be the strongest candidate (21%) or that they’re not sure (26%). Likewise, when given a choice, most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents don’t actually say they want Trump to be the 2024 nominee. Against “someone else,” for instance, just 48% choose Trump, while most either select the unnamed alternative (39%) or say they’re not sure (13%). Against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (35%), even fewer pick Trump (44%); more say they’re not sure (20%).

Around 35-40 percent of the party is already leaning towards an “Anybody But Trump” vote, with plenty of room for a challenger to grow that base as voters get to know him. I sure hope the effort to convince prospective Republican candidates not named “Ron DeSantis” to pass on running in 2024 has begun in earnest, clearing the field for the sort of one-on-one dynamic that would give the governor a real chance.

As for antipathy to Trump across the wider electorate, chew on this fact. Biden’s approval in this poll stands at a gruesome 35 percent; a mere quarter of Americans (and 54 percent of Democrats) think he’s up to the challenges facing America; only 18 percent want him to run again in 2024, a group that includes less than one in three of his own voters from 2020; and … he still leads Trump head to head, 45/42. Republicans would need to have clinical, diagnosable brain damage to weaken their hand by nominating Trump again under those circumstances instead of opting for DeSantis — or anyone else, really, as any other Republican would be more electable at this point.

David Byler has a thoughtful piece today about how Trump lost his position of dominance among Republican voters. It’s not just DeSantis fever sweeping the populist right. Byler gives two reasons: Trump succeeded in remaking the party in his own image, eroding his distinction, and he’s let his mania about the 2020 election alienate him to some degree from this voters. Back in 2015, Trump stood out from the crowd of Republican politicians by being staunchly anti-immigration, centrist on fiscal policy like entitlements, and an “outsider” vis-a-vis the GOP establishment. Seven years later, every Republican candidate with national ambitions is staunchly anti-immigration; Trump himself has tacked right on fiscal policy via the Trump tax cuts; and, as a former president and undisputed leader of the party, he *is* the GOP establishment.

“Heading into a possible third run for the White House, Trump is a victim of his own success,” Byler writes. “By rehabilitating the GOP in the eyes of its voters, he deprived himself of a useful antagonist. Moreover, it might be tough for Trump, who spent four years inside the White House, to again claim the outsider mantle.” To repeat my point above: If you can now sell Trumpism to Americans in a variety of attractive packages, why would you continue to sell it in one that lost the popular vote twice?

As for his “stop the steal” obsession:

First, Trump angered a chunk of his party by pushing to overturn the 2020 election. According to the Times-Siena poll, nearly 1 in 5 Republican primary voters said Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 “went so far that he threatened American democracy” and a quarter of Trump voters maintain (correctly) that Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. By themselves, these voters aren’t numerous enough to stop Trump from getting the nomination — but they might be the base for an alternative GOP nominee.

Second, election fraud is not a priority for most Republicans.

In three consecutive FiveThirtyEight-Ipsos polls, “election fraud or security” emerges as, at best, a secondary issue, with about 1 in 5 Republicans listing it as a top concern. Moreover, Echelon Insights, a GOP polling and analytics firm, found that 4 in 10 Republicans believe Trump’s focus on 2020 is a good reason to oppose him in 2024.

I think his endless ranting about the election being rigged has hurt his 2024 prospects more than the January 6 committee has. The committee may have given wary Republicans a palatable excuse to reject him in the next primaries (“too much baggage, can’t get elected”) to obscure their privately held opinions that his ongoing obsession with the election is weird and unsettling and unintentionally demonstrates that his own grievances matter more to him than Republican voters’ grievances against Biden. The truest of true-blue MAGA fans may be comfortable with hearing people around him talking about him being reinstated if Republicans win the midterms but there must be a healthy share of normie Trump voters who think it’s nuts. He’s doing himself no favors.

I’ll leave you with this from the YouGov poll, a reflection of the sorry state of our increasingly sorry country: “[A] plurality of registered voters now say it would be ‘the worst thing that could happen’ if either President Biden (39%) or former President Donald Trump (41%) were to win the White House again in 2024, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.”