Don’t look now — it’s not even 2023 yet — but the 2024 Republican primary for president looks like it could be highly interesting, a Nov. 10-14 Politico-Morning Consult poll shows.
On the eve of former President Donald Trump’s Nov. 15 announcement that he will once again seek a second term of office, during the aftermath of the U.S. Congressional midterms and before press outlets had called the House of Representatives for Republicans, 47 percent of Republican primary voters said they prefer Trump over Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who received 33 percent.
his was at the height of the “blame Trump” post-election press coverage, when Republicans would have been tuned in for what turned out to be bittersweet results, with the GOP netting at most zero seats in the Senate with the Georgia runoff between Republican challenger Herschel Walker versus incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. And it still showed Trump leading the Republican field by 14 points.
Former Vice President Mike Pence trailed Trump by 42 points, netting only 5 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independents in the poll.
This is a useful snapshot of how Republicans initially felt about the midterm results, after DeSantis won by 20 points over Charlie Crist in the Florida gubernatorial contest. Immediately, Republicans tuning in to cable news broadcasts were presented with calls, especially from older Republican establishment figures, for DeSantis to run for president instead of Trump.
Other discussions surrounding Trump’s potential Nov. 15 “special” announcement was that Trump, if he were running, should postpone until after the Georgia Senate runoff.
Even with all those factors weighing on Republicans’ minds, though, they still chose Trump.
This result could be a cautionary note for Republicans in 2024, and may indeed reflect what a brutal 2024 Republican primary might look like. A slugfest between Trump and DeSantis, particularly a nasty one, could easily divide Republicans in the general election against incumbent President Joe Biden.
If Trump were to win such a contest, it might be at considerable costs. Galvanized anti-Trump voters who had participated in the primaries would again be galvanized in the general election (although that would have happened anyway), which if Trump were to lose, especially if it were close, might lead some to question if a bitterly fought primary had been a major factor in Republican defeat.
By the way, none of that ever hurt Ronald Reagan, who waged such a contest against a sitting president in Gerald Ford in 1976, losing the Republican nomination but then being the next in line in 1980, easily won the GOP nomination and defeated Jimmy Carter in a landslide.
Ford, who had to run against Watergate and Richard Nixon’s albatross of a legacy as much as Carter, might have lost anyway by even more if Reagan had not run. In that case, Reagan brought in a lot of new Republican voters, graciously accepted defeat at the convention and endorsed Ford, who still had shot at defeating Carter, only losing Ohio by 11,000 votes and Texas by 130,000.
But that’s a romantic retelling at best. Candidates who overwhelmingly win primaries do much better than those who have to slug it out state after state. In 2024, these problems would be magnified by an anti-Trump and anti-Republican news media.
And if DeSantis were to pull of the upset, the question in 2024 would be whether Trump voters, especially those who were exclusively Trump voters and not necessarily Republican voters would stay home. Trump had 11 million more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016 in the general election. That could easily harm DeSantis’ 2024 election prospects.
That’s the risk. Yes, DeSantis definitely would be the next in line — Reagan got the nomination after losing in 1976, George H.W. Bush got it after losing in 1980, John McCain got it after losing in 2000 and Mitt Romney got it after losing it in 2008 — but it would still only be setting up a 2028 run.
In 2024, it might help Joe Biden get reelected, who will almost certainly reclaim the House of Representatives if he does win.
If DeSantis runs now, sure, he could be the next Reagan. Or he could be the next Ted Cruz, who also ran against Trump in 2016, and now only garners 2 percent in the Politico-Morning Consult poll.
Whereas, if DeSantis were to wait until 2028, the presidential cycle would be more favorable to whoever the Republican nominee happens to be, especially if Biden wins and will have been in power for eight years at that point and who can take another minute of that?
Of course, there is the possibility that none of it matters. Trump might still easily win a contested nomination anyway, similar to 2016, and whoever came in second place could undoubtedly be in the back of voters’ minds in 2028.
Or, they could be forgotten. A contested primary could help test Trump as a candidate, and to help him work out the rust. The dilemma this poses to his opponents’ future political prospects is on them.
Life is full of choices and this is one of those choices for any career politician. There is no crystal ball to tell you what the outcome is going to be. What is clearly obvious, though, for Republicans, is that if they are not united in 2024, Biden will easily be reelected. Stay tuned.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.
Original here. Reproduced with permission.