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Trump Is the GOP’s Albatross

February 02, 2023
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There’s a lot of skepticism about former President Donald Trump’s campaign launch for the 2024 Republican nomination. His rambling, hour-long mid-November announcement was widely panned. There have been few endorsements and no trademark rallies. He’s trailing Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida and New Hampshire polls and is having fundraising difficulties. All this leaves an impression of—dare we say—low energy. 

However, Mr. Trump could still be the Republican nominee. He’s a known quantity. His committed following is larger than any prospective GOP rival’s. He’s been underestimated before by many—including by me on numerous occasions. He has time to up his game. But will he?

There’s also a downside for each of Mr. Trump’s strengths. He’s well-known, sure, but also overexposed. His shtick is old, his speeches boring. More and more Republicans want to turn the page: Only 31% in the Dec. 11 USA Today/Suffolk University poll wanted him to run again.

While Mr. Trump leads most national polling matchups, it’s easy to flame out early. The GOP frontrunner at this point in 2007 was New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and in 2015 Jeb Bush. This happens to early Democratic presidential picks, too. Gallup had Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. Joe Lieberman swapping the pole position early during the late winter of 2002 and early spring of 2003. In February 2007, Hillary Clinton was way out in front.

In short, other Republican hopefuls shouldn’t rush campaign announcements just because Mr. Trump has. It’s better to reach as many party leaders, activists and donors as possible before formally announcing. It makes them feel important and disposed to support you. Candidates can collect new friends, polish their message, hire a team and get their political muscles into shape without formally declaring. They have time: Mr. Trump himself entered the 2016 contest on June 16, 2015.

Alone in the spotlight, it’s hard for Mr. Trump to do what he usually does in an election—go on the attack. When he attacked his primary opponents in 2016, he was punching up and it made him look strong. Now as a former president, he’s punching down and it makes him look weak. It was a mistake to launch assaults against two prospective opponents, Mr. DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. Objects of his scorn should ignore the gibes unless they see a great opportunity for political jiu jitsu. Mr. DeSantis pulled off a particularly effective take down when Mr. Trump attacked his Covid record, saying Floridians must approve of it since they re-elected him by a massive 19 points. The subtext: Donald Trump is a loser.

While Mr. Trump faces challenges, two big ones also loom for his competitors. First, the GOP needs to keep the field from being too crowded for too long. That’s what gave Mr. Trump the advantage in 2016. He averaged 34% of the vote in the two February primaries, South Carolina and New Hampshire, but he won 84% of their 73 combined delegates, because his plurality let him win all of South Carolina’s. In early March primaries, he won 33% of the vote but 45% of the 732 delegates. In late March, he had 46% of the vote but grabbed 67% of the 425 delegates. It was May before he began consistently winning more than 50% of the vote. 

There’s a lot of skepticism about former President Donald Trump’s campaign launch for the 2024 Republican nomination. His rambling, hour-long mid-November announcement was widely panned. There have been few endorsements and no trademark rallies. He’s trailing Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida and New Hampshire polls and is having fundraising difficulties. All this leaves an impression of—dare we say—low energy. 

However, Mr. Trump could still be the Republican nominee. He’s a known quantity. His committed following is larger than any prospective GOP rival’s. He’s been underestimated before by many—including by me on numerous occasions. He has time to up his game. But will he?

There’s also a downside for each of Mr. Trump’s strengths. He’s well-known, sure, but also overexposed. His shtick is old, his speeches boring. More and more Republicans want to turn the page: Only 31% in the Dec. 11 USA Today/Suffolk University poll wanted him to run again.

While Mr. Trump leads most national polling matchups, it’s easy to flame out early. The GOP frontrunner at this point in 2007 was New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and in 2015 Jeb Bush. This happens to early Democratic presidential picks, too. Gallup had Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. Joe Lieberman swapping the pole position early during the late winter of 2002 and early spring of 2003. In February 2007, Hillary Clinton was way out in front.

Read More at the WSJ

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