Like almost everyone not on the DeSantis gravy train, Eric Levitz acknowledged that Trump’s likely to be the Republican nominee next year. “[T]he Viktor Orbán of the Sunshine State,” he wrote, “appears to be wilting beneath the heat of the national spotlight. DeSantis presents better on paper than on television. He did manage to push a thoroughly Trumpist agenda and then win a landslide reelection in a purple state [against a fellow Republican pretending to be a Democrat]… Put aside all the reasons DeSantis is theoretically an appealing candidate and you’re left with all the reasons he isn’t one in reality. The man is charmless. He does not like people, and it shows. His antipathy to schmoozing and glad-handing is so powerful that he can’t be bothered to reliably return calls from billionaire GOP megadonors. He eats pudding with his fingers. Trump, an inveterate bully, has no trouble identifying his rival’s pain points and squeezing them mercilessly. This week, the Republican front-runner suggested DeSantis may soon be forced to seek ‘an emergency personality transplant.’ We are still more than a year away from the Republican convention. And in the interim, Trump is liable to face multiple criminal indictments in addition to a civil trial in which he stands accused of rape. So it is entirely possible DeSantis, or one of the party’s current long shots, will ultimately prevail. But it seems overwhelmingly likely Trump will resume his place at the top of the GOP ticket.”
That said, Levitz gets to his main point: despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, Trump could definitely beat Biden and get back into the White House. Like all of us, he knows that “Trump is an exceptionally weak general-election candidate. To no small extent, his personal odiousness does much of the Democratic Party’s persuasion-and-mobilization work for it. For a significant number of swing-state suburbanites, Trump’s presence on the GOP ticket is sufficient cause for supporting the Democratic one. This reality is reflected not only in 2020 voting patterns but also in the underperformance of Trump-y candidates in swing states last year. Meanwhile, Trump did more in 2018 and 2020 to increase turnout among the Democratic base than countless get-out-the-vote initiatives ever did. His nomination will make reassembling the Biden coalition considerably easier than the ascent of Nikki Haley or Tim Scott would. But that doesn’t mean Trump’s coronation would ensure Biden’s reelection. To the contrary, there is reason to believe Trump’s odds of victory in 2024 would be at least as good as his odds in 2020, when he came within 45,000 well-placed votes of winning.”
Biden is much less popular now than he was on Election Day in 2020. His approval rating currently sits around 43 percent. As political scientist Ruy Texiera notes, the previous three incumbent presidents received only one to 2 percent more support in the popular vote than they did in approval polls. Currently, in surveys of a hypothetical 2020 election rematch, Biden leads Trump by an average of just 1.4 percentage points. In 2016, a 2-point popular-vote win was not enough to secure Hillary Clinton an Electoral College majority.
What’s more, there is reason to fear that Biden’s economic record will get worse before it gets better. He has presided over the highest inflation in half a century, and voters broadly disapprove of his economic management. For a long time, the bullish case for Biden was that prices would stabilize by 2024 and he would finally enjoy the political benefits of full employment. But as the Fed’s interest-rate hikes ripple through the economy, the odds of an election-year economic downturn have steadily risen. Judging by the spread between the three-month and ten-year U.S. Treasury rates, markets believe there is a nearly 58 percent chance of the U.S. entering a recession by March 2024. Thursday’s lower-than-expected GDP numbers lend credence to that forecast.
It is possible a mild recession would kill inflation, thereby eliminating what has been Biden’s greatest economic liability. But even if the pace of inflation were to slow down, the level of many salient prices would remain noticeably higher than they were under Trump. Combine discontent about higher grocery bills with rising unemployment and Biden’s odds of enjoying the same election-year rebound that many past incumbent presidents did go down.
Biden’s other liability— his extraordinarily advanced age— is of course going to get only more pronounced between now and November 2024. Biden’s status as an 80-year-old is less of a liability against a 76-year-old Trump than it is against a 44-year-old DeSantis. But the president does come across as distinctly older than his makeup-and-tanner-drenched rival.
Finally, even though Trump has myriad demerits as a general-election candidate, he isn’t devoid of peculiar strengths. The mogul is far less wedded to the conservative movement’s ideological project than many of his rivals. Unlike DeSantis, Trump has never endorsed the privatization of Social Security. And, to this point, he has been less acquiescent to the anti-abortion movement’s maximalist demands than the Florida governor has. Last week, the Trump campaign leaked word that the candidate considers a national abortion ban a vote loser and would be unlikely to support one. The less competitive DeSantis becomes, the more likely it is Trump will be able to avoid moving any further right on abortion policy.
I think voters decide who to vote for based on a wide array of reasons, not just because of policies. For example, some voters are loyal to a particular political party and will vote for candidates from that party regardless of the individual candidates' policies or qualifications. Other voters are influenced by a candidate's personal characteristics such as their perceived competence, honesty, physical attributes and charisma, gender, race, religion and relatability. Some voters may be swayed by campaign messages. Donald Green’s and Alan Gerber’s 2006 study, "The Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertising" for the American Political Science Review, concluded that campaign advertising had a modest but measurable effect on voters' opinions and behavior. They also found that negative advertising, in particular, could be effective at persuading voters. John Geer’s and Lynn Vavreck’s research for the same publication the following year, “Do Negative Campaigns Mobilize or Suppress Turnout? Clarifying the Relationship Between Negativity and Participation,” found that negative advertising can suppress voter turnout, but only when it is focused on issues that are not important to voters. When negative ads are focused on important issues, they can actually increase voter turnout.
A very influential 2012 study by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson, published in the American Political Science Review, “Ideology in American Politics,” found that approximately 70% of American voters have stable policy preferences and that these preferences are a significant factor in determining their vote choice. Another study, “Issue vs. Non-Issue Voting: The Role of Public Opinion in Presidential Elections,” this one by Matthew Kerbel and Daniel Coffey in 2013, published in the Journal of Politics, found that issue preferences are the most important factor in determining vote choice for most voters, with non-issue factors such as candidate traits or social identity playing a smaller— but still not insignificant— role.
Guns are one of the issues that a set number of people vote on. If you want to avoid gun violence it’s probably a good idea to not live in a red state, especially not in Texas and Florida which have the worst gun violence anywhere. Colin Woodard wrote earlier this week that DeSantis proclaimed crime in New York City was ‘out of control’ and blamed it on George Soros. Another Sunshine State politico, Señor Trumpanzee, offered his native city up as a Democrat-run dystopia, one of those places “where the middle class used to flock to live the American dream are now war zones, literal war zones.” In May 2022, hours after 19 children were murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott swatted back suggestions that the state could save lives by implementing tougher gun laws by proclaiming “Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis.” The Deep South is the most deadly at 15.6 per 100,000 residents followed by Greater Appalachia at 13.5. That’s triple and quadruple the rate of the New York City area— the most densely populated part of the continent— which has a rate of 3.8, which is comparable to that of Switzerland.
In reality, the region the Big Apple comprises most of is far and away the safest part of the U.S. mainland when it comes to gun violence, while the regions Florida and Texas belong to have per capita firearm death rates (homicides and suicides) three to four times higher than New York’s. On a regional basis it’s the southern swath of the country— in cities and rural areas alike— where the rate of deadly gun violence is most acute, regions where Republicans have dominated state governments for decades.
…So what’s behind the stark contrasts between the regions?
In a classic 1993 study of the geographic gap in violence, the social psychologist Richard Nisbett of the University of Michigan, noted the regions initially “settled by sober Puritans, Quakers and Dutch farmer-artisans”— that is, Yankeedom, the Midlands and New Netherland— were organized around a yeoman agricultural economy that rewarded “quiet, cooperative citizenship, with each individual being capable of uniting for the common good.”
Much of the South, he wrote, was settled by “swashbuckling Cavaliers of noble or landed gentry status, who took their values . . . from the knightly, medieval standards of manly honor and virtue” (by which he meant Tidewater and the Deep South) or by Scots and Scots-Irish borderlanders (the Greater Appalachian colonists) who hailed from one of the most lawless parts of Europe and relied on “an economy based on herding,” where one’s wealth is tied up in livestock, which are far more vulnerable to theft than grain crops.
These southern cultures developed what anthropologists call a “culture of honor tradition” in which males treasure their honor and believed it can be diminished if an insult, slight or wrong were ignored. “In an honor culture you have to be vigilant about people impugning your reputation and part of that is to show that you can’t be pushed around,” says University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign psychologist Dov Cohen, who conducted a series of experiments with Nisbett demonstrating the persistence of these quick-to-insult characteristics in university students. White male students from the southern regions lashed out in anger at insults and slights that those from northern ones ignored or laughed off. “Arguments over pocket change or popsicles in these Southern cultures can result in people getting killed, but what’s at stake isn’t the popsicle, it’s personal honor.”
…In these same regions this aggressive proclivity is coupled with the violent legacy of having been slave societies. Before 1865, enslaved people were kept in check through the threat and application of violence including whippings, torture and often gruesome executions. For nearly a century thereafter, similar measures were used by the Ku Klux Klan, off-duty law enforcement and thousands of ordinary white citizens to enforce a racial caste system.
Now check out Fox’s new polling data on guns. This is what Americans want in regard to gun safety, albeit not the gun lobbyists or the people they pay off:
Another 61% favor banning assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons (although that includes just 36% of Republicans). Overall, 43% feel passing stricter gun control laws would make the country safer, a quarter feel it would make it less safe (25%), and a third thinks they won’t make a difference (31%).
Yesterday, Gov. Jared Polis signed 4 new gun control laws that increase the minimum age (from 18 to 21) to buy a gun; require a 3 day waiting period before buying a gun; expand Colorado’s red flag law to allow psychologists, teachers and district attorney to ask a judge to temporarily seize a person's firearms if they pose a threat; and repeal limits on civil lawsuits seeking damages against firearm makers and sellers. Not passed though— a proposal to ban assault weapons, the way Washington state did this week. Still pending in the legislature, and expected to pass soon, is a fifth bill that would ban the creation and sale of unserialized firearms, also known as “ghost guns.”