DeSantis soars: The first poll of the 2024 primary season shows ...

AP Photo/Jill Colvin

… that we have too much time on our hands. But I digress.

A number of our readers have picked up on a new poll in the aftermath of the Red Mist Midterms, which I posted to the headline marquee but needs a bit more fleshing out. The big attention-getting headline from the YouGov survey reported the first post-midterm take on the 2024 Republican primary fight, but its main focus was on the midterm results themselves.

Needless to say, no one was really satisfied with the outcome. Nearly half of all Republicans found the results disappointing, while a third of Democrats were pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Pluralities of both parties would rather have one party in charge of both chambers of Congress. Even independents can’t take much satisfaction; half of them aren’t sure which they’d prefer, and they split 28/22 in slight favor of having control split between the parties.

The real buzz, though, was the survey’s head-to-head results for the GOP presidential primary that may start within hours. And the man who may kick it off tomorrow night starts off behind, according to their poll:

Have the results of 2022 made Democrats and Republicans rethink their approaches going forward? Looking ahead to the 2024 election, roughly one-third of Democrats and a similar share of Republicans say their party should take a similar approach as they did in 2022, while a slightly larger share in each party say they should take a different approach. Independents are far more likely to think each of the parties should take a different approach than to think they ought to stay the course.

There is one area in which Republicans are rethinking their approach in 2024: More Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents now say they’d prefer DeSantis (42%) as their 2024 presidential nominee over Trump than say they’d prefer Trump to DeSantis (35%). That’s a reversal from nearly a month ago, when — according to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll of U.S. adults — just 35% preferred DeSantis and 45% said they preferred Trump. People who say they strongly identify as Republicans are more likely to prefer Trump yet are still nearly evenly divided. Independents who lean toward the Republican Party, on the other hand, are more than twice as likely to prefer DeSantis to Trump.

The poll got conducted Wednesday through Friday last week, when voters began seeing the results of the midterm elections. They reflect the instant reactions seen on social media and in criticisms of the GOP, which have noted how poorly candidates who focused on the 2020 election performed. The timing matters here because those views may either harden or change as more debate takes place on how the GOP blew a lay-up and what direction the party needs to take.

This poll also has another problem, which is that the GOP primary is not likely to be a two-person race. Donald Trump certainly doesn’t think so; that’s why he went out of his way to attack Glenn Youngkin last week. Mike Pence also has made it clear that he’d like to run, if the conditions are good, and several other Republicans seem to be jockeying around as well.

Why does this matter? The more candidates jump into the race, the more the dynamic changes. If the choice is between Trump and Ron DeSantis, as this poll models and as some have urged, the “anti-Trump” vote has one choice — and it would likely win, as this poll shows. (Interestingly, DeSantis nearly ties Trump with “strong Republicans,” which indicates significant base erosion for Trump.) The more people that get in the race, though, the more that vote gets split and the likelier it becomes that Trump wins with pluralities, even narrow as they may be. That essentially is what happened in 2015, as the other candidates attempted to be the Last Non-Trump Standing — and all torpedoed each other in the process.

However, that’s where the value of this poll comes into play. Trump will likely announce tomorrow as planned, despite the concerns from others in the party that it will negatively impact the Georgia runoff election for Senate. Trump is apparently prepping for that by slapping back at Winsome Sears and Mitch McConnell and his wife Elaine Chao yesterday, using the same kind of enlightened commentary he deployed against Glenn Youngkin:

“It’s Mitch McConnell’s fault,” Mr. Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social. “Spending money to defeat great Republican candidates instead of backing [Arizona Senate GOP nominee] Blake Masters and others was a big mistake. Giving 4 Trillion Dollars to the Radical Left for the Green New Deal, not Infrastructure, was an even bigger mistake.”

Mr. Trump went on to repeat an attack against Elaine Chao, Mr. McConnell‘s wife and his former transportation secretary.

“He blew the Midterms, and everyone despises him and his otherwise lovely wife, Coco Chow!” Mr. Trump wrote.

Trump appointed Elaine Chao — not Chow — to the job of Transportation Secretary, where she served almost the entire four-year stretch for Trump.

With this going on and with at least one poll out suggesting Trump would lose a head-to-head race for the nomination, perhaps other candidates will be less inclined to enter the race. Ambition runs strong and deep within governors and members of Congress, but the needs of the party may call them to a moment of sacrifice for the sake of moving the GOP in a different direction — or perhaps more accurately, dumping some baggage while attempting to maintain as much of their direction as possible. DeSantis’ performance over the last four years in Florida makes a strong case that he may be the only Republican in the field who can pull that off.

In other words, don’t look at the YouGov survey so much as a predictive poll but more as a prescriptive poll. It may be a clear signal as to cure what ails the GOP, if enough people take it to get well again.

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