A new poll— much like all the other polls— shows that Biden’s favorability rating is just 40%, pretty awful. That said, let’s take a quick look at everyone else’s favorable ratings:
Meatball Ron- 33%
Nikki Haley- 28%
Tim Scott- 23%
When voters who identify themselves as Republicans were asked who they would vote for in a GOP primary if it were held today, Trump was the hands-down winner. No one comes close:
Meatball Ron- 19%
Nikki Haley- 5%
Tim Scott- 2%
Chris Christie- 1%
Larry Elder- 1%
Glenn Youngkin, Rick Perry, Chris Sununu, Will Hurd, Asa Hutchinson, Francis Suarez and Doug Burgum all showed up with less than 1%.
On top of that, 49% to 45% of the electorate said they would vote for Biden rather than Trump and 46% to 42% said they would vote for Biden rather that Meatball. According to a new L.A. Times poll, 44% of California’s likely Republican primary voters back Trump, while just 26% are for Meatball. “That’s a notable reversal of their standings three months ago, when DeSantis led Trump by 8 percentage points among the state’s GOP voters.” This kind of thing is probably great for the primary... toxic for the general election:
Yesterday, John Ellis discussed the unsuccessful effort to paint Trump as a loser who would deliver the election to the unpopular Biden and help Democrats regain the House and minimize losses in the Senate. “Ron DeSantis,” wrote Ellis, “says that Trump is a loser and that the time has come for Republican primary voters and caucus attenders to leave him behind and get on with the task of winning elections. This is an odd way to address Trump voters, to put it mildly. You’re-a-loser-if-you-keep-voting-for-that-loser is not a winning message. Polls reflect this. For a time after the 2022 mid-term elections, it appeared that DeSantis would emerge as the Savior, the one who could defeat Trump while holding ‘the base.’ Those hopes were quickly dashed by Trump’s announcement of candidacy, and the ineptitude of the DeSantis political operation’s response. ‘Trump is still our guy’ was the base’s verdict. ‘DeSantis is not ready for prime time’ was the press’s verdict. The latter judgement was not unfair.”
In the wake of DeSantis’s cliff-dive in national and key state polls, the DeSantis campaign has doubled down on “Loser Don” and introduced the new-and-improved Retail Ron, who actually shakes hands, flips burgers and smiles at voters. In addition, a pro-DeSantis super PAC called Never Back Down, shared with reporters from the New York Times its plans for a super-duper high-tech/low-tech “ground game” capable of reaching every possible GOP caucus attender in Iowa “five times” and every New Hampshire primary voter “four times.” It could build this organizational behemoth, the Never Back Downers said, because it had raised (and continues to raise) so much money from so many rich people there was no counting it all.
All of this bluster and mega-bucks triumphalism feels a lot like the bluster and triumphalism of the John Connally for president campaign in 1979. Mr. Connally was, as the song goes, a “long tall Texan,” ready to vanquish the aging Reagan, who the press portrayed as unelectable and well past his sell-by date. Like DeSantis, Connally had boatloads of money, supposedly strong political support in the Sunbelt and a (manufactured) aura of inevitability. His time had come. Reagan’s best days were behind him. All the voters needed to do was sign off.
Jonathan Martin reported how high-level Republican lawmakers, donors and strategists eager to block Trump have described, in separate conversations with him, an endgame to the presidential primary. He wonders if this is the week that the grand plan to deny Trump the nomination falls apart? Will the top GOP influencers in the early states— Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Michigan and the March 5th Super Tuesday states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia)— tell the candidates with no chance they have no chance and that it’s time to say goodbye and rally behind the strongest alternative to Trump?
“Such a plot,” wrote Martin, “always struck me as a bit far-fetched, for starters because politicians aren’t known for putting party ahead of self. Yet the appetite among elite Republicans to move past Trump was and is so immense I thought there could at least be a do-the-right-thing effort.” He points to Meatball’s “muffed launch, the fitting, sad trombone conclusion to a preannouncement period in which his stock sagged, at least among political insiders… Announcing his candidacy Monday in the gym of his alma mater, Charleston Southern University, Scott matched DeSantis’ Elon Musk with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Larry Ellison (Billionaire-Oracle). Each of them conveyed an important message. By laying hands on Scott, Thune, the second-ranking Senate Republican, sent a signal to the wider, pre-Trump GOP establishment that the only Black senator in the GOP is one of them. That may not mean a lot of votes, but along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tacit embrace, it conveys a message to the Republican donor class.”
Thune may soon have more company in the Senate GOP: He told Scott supporters privately later in the day that other Republican lawmakers would already be backing their colleague, the only senator in the race, were it not for their concerns about angering Trump, according to a person present for the conversation. Even more to the point, Thune, when asked who Scott as nominee could win back to the party, asked, “How much time you got?” and then ticked off demographic groups ranging from women to moderates to educated voters.
Such potential is what will make Scott appealing to victory-hungry Republicans. They’re also the sort of party regulars DeSantis will ultimately need as part of any coalition he forms to stop Trump. If such voters migrate to Scott, that task gets harder.
While Thune’s appearance, along with the veritable battalion of former Bush and Romney strategists working for Scott, signaled establishment acceptability, Ellison demonstrated why coalescence could prove difficult against Trump.
Scott has relentlessly wooed the Oracle co-founder. The senator flew to Hawaii to meet with Ellison over the holidays and even name-checked him as a “mentor” in his announcement speech.
Now, Ellison is prepared to spend tens of millions of dollars on behalf of Scott.
As the saying goes, presidential campaigns don’t end, they run out of money. But that’s less of a factor when one of the world’s richest men is willing to part with tens of millions of dollars on a super PAC extending the life of a candidacy.
Ellison was hardly alone: Also in the stands, before being herded away by Scott campaign officials after the event, were a group of noticeably well-tailored individuals. The donors later convened at a restaurant on Charleston’s old market before attending another event with Scott on Tuesday morning at the luxe Hotel Bennett, where many of them stayed.
Lastly, there was Scott’s speech itself. There was alliterative call-and-response (“Victimhood or victory?”), there was entering the crowd at the end, there were testimonials to America’s greatness and there was the gospel of Jesus Christ, self-help and the power of positive thinking. It was the Black church meets the mega church, set to a Lee Greenwood-Thomas Jefferson soundtrack while Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan smiled down from above over a Chick-fil-A lunch.
In other words, Scott happily railed against wokeness without ever saying the word “woke,” precisely the sort of messaging that will appeal to Republicans done with Trump who want a duller edge than DeSantis. That may not be enough for Scott to emerge as Trump’s top rival— let alone claim the nomination of a party craving the clenched first more than the open hand— but he could find a constituency.
…Another reveal this week came from the emerging Hamlet-on-the-James, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Axios reported— right as Scott launched and DeSantis was preparing to— that Youngkin was again considering a presidential bid. The story irritated some members of the governor’s inner circle, who want to focus on Virginia’s legislative midterms this fall, but what was striking was their denials stopped short of, well, actually denying that he will get in the race.
Youngkin’s refusal to fully rule out a 2024 bid illustrates both how much he wants to keep the option open and the lingering hunger in the top ranks of the party for another option. That said— and insert a trigger warning here for veterans of the Wes Clark, Rick Perry and Michael Bloomberg campaigns— late entrants have invariably flopped in modern primaries.
But, again, this is all delightful to Trump, who is thrilled about the prospect of more candidates carving up the opposition. Never one for subtext, the former president responded to Scott’s entry by gleefully saying the primary “is rapidly loading up with lots of people.”
Lastly, there was one other sign this week of Trump’s unique strength in the GOP, but you may have had to look for it. It was when former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley used an appearance before reporters in New Hampshire to target DeSantis for “copying Trump” with his speaking style and even “his hand gestures.”
It was an admission from Haley, the first candidate after the former president to enter the race, that she’s not breaking through and must dislodge DeSantis to take on Trump. It was also an illustration of how little regard the other Republicans in the race have for DeSantis and the risk the Florida governor faces of these candidates cutting a deal with Trump to stay in the race and divide up the vote in exchange for some promise of, say, the vice-presidency or wokeness czar.
Perhaps most significant, Haley’s criticism of the person in second rather than the one leading most state and national surveys by double-digits highlighted the central challenge non-Trump Republicans are confronting: their own voters.
After years of absorbing attacks on Trump from Democrats and the media— and the former president happily embracing, to borrow from Scott, the role of both victim and victor— the GOP rank-and-file is largely inured to frontal attacks on a man most of them have now voted for twice in general elections.
“The conservative media ecosystem has built a giant wall of inoculation around everything Trump,” explained David Kochel. “All our voters have ever known about Trump is he’s constantly under attack, so he’s got these antibodies built up.”
…To forcefully condemn Trump as a menace to democracy is to echo the other tribe, to put on the blue jersey. Shaming your own voters is not a recipe for victory.
Kochel thinks Trump can be stopped in the primary but believes his party’s voters require “a permission structure.” It’s equal parts electability— a strong and persistent drumbeat of arguments that Trump can’t win the general election, a refrain I heard from the many middle- to upper middle-class voters at Scott’s announcement— and confronting the former president from the right on the border wall with Mexico, Covid restrictions and government spending.
We’ve already seen some of this criticism from DeSantis since he entered the race. And there’s a debate taking place within his orbit about how much to balance introducing the Florida governor and how quickly to get to confronting Trump, framing him, as one DeSantis adviser put it, “as a whiner, not a winner.”
Somebody will have to.