With the mid-term elections coming up and things looking very poorly for the Democratic Party, Republicans are poised to take major advantage of a lackluster first two years under President Joe Biden’s leadership.
By retaking one or both houses of Congress at the mid-terms, Republicans would be in a great position to step back into the White House, giving the GOP control of the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Whether that happens remains to be seen and much of that possibility depends on one man: former President Donald Trump.
In a New York Times/Siena College poll, Trump was the preference of more than 50% of Republicans to be the party nominee for the 2024 race. While those numbers are down somewhat, they are still plenty high enough for the former president to become the party’s nominee.
While Trump’s appeal has taken some hits from his continuing insistence upon the election having been stolen and the terrible publicity from the Jan. 6 committee hearings, he is still the clearly the favorite of Republican Party voters.
The aforementioned poll indicates there really isn’t a strong second choice among GOP voters at this point. Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, polled second, but he was only in the mid-20% range. Other possible candidates — such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — all polled less than 10%, which would indicate little support for anyone other than Trump.
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Those potential candidates will have to gauge party members’ level of unhappiness with the former president before deciding whether to run. Trump isn’t invincible even within the Republican Party and could be beaten for the nomination by the right candidate.
Here is the thing with a potential Trump candidacy: Although he is clearly the favorite of conservative voters, he is carrying an awful lot of baggage from his first term in office. Ironically, if the election had been held in 2019 instead of 2020, Trump would have easily won a second term. His presidency ended up on the rocks because of several calamities that began with his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, Trump was cruising toward reelection, but his often-chaotic handling of the COVID crisis did him severe damage. Then the so-called “Big Lie” about the election being stolen soured Americans even more. The coup de grâce was the Jan. 6 mess. All these things combined to leave the critical swing voters, without which neither party can win a presidency, reeling and in shock.
Therein lies the real issue for Republicans: Can the party reclaim enough of the swing vote to win the presidency? Traditional Republican voters will support Trump, and he probably will win the party’s nomination, but can you imagine how difficult it will be for Trump to win the presidency when every Democratic Party ad will focus on those three issues that brought him down to begin with? The Democrats will wage a campaign of fear like you have never seen.
Republicans don’t seem bothered by any of this and will likely vote for him again without even a second thought, but there are not enough Republicans to carry him, or any Republican candidate, into the White House without help. Swing voters are required for the party to win.
In looking at the top two choices, Trump and DeSantis, both men display similar policy ideas and have what one might term similar mannerisms. Being like Trump but without all the Trump baggage might help DeSantis overtake the former president in the polls.
There is also the issue of Trump’s age. He is 76 and will be 78 by the time he could take office for another term. As we have seen with Biden, age is a very real issue. DeSantis is much younger, being only 43, and he could appeal to a younger voting demographic.
Winning over swing voters is a critical issue. With more than 80% of the country’s voters feeling the country is going the wrong way, the mid-term and 2024 election cycles are primed for a Republican domination; however, a great deal of how that turns out will depend upon who Republican voters nominate.
There is no doubt that Trump inspires the most passion among Republicans. The problem is that he inspires even more passion in the opposition, so the trait that is his greatest strength is also his greatest liability. Could DeSantis, or any of the other potential candidates do as much to inspire Republicans but without firing up Democrats even more?
There are a couple of potential dark-horse candidates Republican voters might see in the race. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin won in a pretty solidly Democratic state in 2021, and he could bring that across-the-aisle appeal to the Republican Party. Similarly, Chris Sununu, who is the Republican governor of New Hampshire, another solidly blue state, likely has the skills to reach swing voters.
There are rumors that Trump will announce his candidacy even before the mid-term elections. When he announces, any other person who thinks himself or herself a serious contender will also have to announce quickly in order not to fall too far behind.
Gary Cosby Jr. is the photo editor of The Tuscaloosa News. Readers can email him at [email protected]