Donald Trump, the former President of the United States, is back at it. Last week, he announced that he is trying to be the second non-consecutive US president after Grover Cleveland.
Trump’s decision comes at a moment when his political brand has been at its weakest since 2015-2016, his first presidential campaign. Trump is still a powerful force in GOP circles. The news that the Justice Department appointed a special counsel for investigations into the former president could cause a rally-around Trump effect. His influence within the party has declined since the 2022 midterm elections.
It is easy to see the reaction to Trump’s 2024 presidential announcement. It was met with a lot of boos from conservative media personalities and elected Republicans.
Trump’s announcement won him support from very few elected officials on Capitol Hill. This was a much more similar announcement to his 2015-2016 bid, which saw him draw little support from Congress. This time, however, Trump is the former leader and party member whom most Republican members of Congress endorsed in 2020, rather than a political novice like he was seven years ago.
Instead, it seems that there is only one senator who supports Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is more popular than Trump. This is significant because party officials’ endorsements have been historically correlated with success in the presidential primary.
It is worth noting that Trump was not stopped by a lack of endorsements in 2016 and may not
be this time.
Trump’s first bid might have been an aberration. Trump was up against more than 12 competitors, who had split the support of the conservative political class. This is a particular problem in Republican primaries which are winner-take-all affairs (or most), whereas Democratic primaries award delegates proportionally. Trump required less than half the GOP vote to quickly accumulate many delegates in 2016.
In 2024, he may not be able to get the same split opposition. DeSantis is Trump’s only real competitor at the moment.
Perhaps the most significant development in 2024’s Republican field is the rise of the Florida governor. Trump still leads in many national primary polls. But DeSantis is doing better in the early national polls than any other candidate for most of 2016.
DeSantis beat Trump almost in every poll in his home state, Florida. According to an exit poll, 2022 Florida midterm voters favored DeSantis’ candidacy for the 2024 election. This was more than Trump.
DeSantis’ Florida advantage stands out for many reasons.
First, Trump is also a Florida resident. It’s the only state where they are both equally known in terms of their names. DeSantis’ example is a sign that Republicans across the country will get to know him better and could begin moving toward him. (DeSantis has a more favorable rating than Trump among Republicans who know both men.
Second, Trump beat Marco Rubio in Florida’s 2016 primaries. Trump may be in a less favorable position now than in 2016. DeSantis is leading him in polls.
Trump’s problems are not limited to polls and party officials. Trump managed to defy the conventional wisdom of 2016 because he received a large amount of media attention. He effectively crowded out his competition.
It won’t be easy this time. As I have previously pointed out, DeSantis has a knack for generating lots of media attention at Fox News. Trump’s name was not mentioned on page 26 of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post (whose editorial pages lean to the right) the day after his 2024 declaration. Murdoch is also the chief executive of Fox News.
Even if Trump wins in the primary, he will still need to win general elections. It won’t be an easy task, as the 2022 midterms demonstrated.
Last week, I noticed that Trump’s presence was one reason that Democrats did so well in the
midterm elections. Trump’s presence in the news and his quasi-incumbency helped negate what is usually a major advantage for opposition parties in midterm elections with an unpopular incumbent White House.
You could have imagined a world in which Trump’s bigger-than-life personality might have been useful if he was popular.
According to the 2022 exit poll, Trump’s favorability rating is now at 39%, which is one of the lowest levels in five years. This compares to a 46% positive rating in the 2020 exit poll, and a 45% approval rating for the job in the 2018 exit poll.
You could see Trump’s unpopularity playing a bigger role in a presidential election where his name is on the ballot.
It is clear from history that Trump will have a difficult time. In midterm elections, incumbent presidents (like Joe Biden), are at disadvantage. However, they can benefit from their incumbency during presidential elections. When they run for another term, incumbents win over 60%.
Trump has a long way to go for 2024, both in a GOP primary and in a general election. Trump can win a second term. However, the odds are against him.