Sabato’s people have it right….
Donald Trump seems hell bent on making sure President Biden, the guy who beat Trump in November of 2020 BEATS him AGAIN by a wider margin and helps Democrats in House and Senate races…
KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— Despite a second indictment, Donald Trump remains in a strong position in the GOP presidential primary field.
— Trump continues to earn majorities or near-majorities in polls, far outpacing his rivals, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
— Republicans would rather have a nominee they agree with than an electable one.
Trump’s strong primary position endures
As the Republican presidential primary field fills out and former President Donald Trump confronts a second indictment, an intriguing battle of numbers has emerged among GOP pollsters aligned with Trump and Florida Gov. (and now candidate) Ron DeSantis over whether Trump can win a general election against President Joe Biden.
In a column for National Journal a couple of weeks ago, I discussed the team DeSantis argument and why leaked numbers that are favorable for Trump’s archrival are nothing to hang one’s hat on. The pollsters affiliated with DeSantis (or pro-DeSantis PACs) continue to push back on polls that look strong for Trump. In many cases their critiques are valid, but it’s unclear that a non-Trump Republican would overcome the hurdles they cite as problems for Trump.
Shortly after, team Trump has started pushing back by pointing out that the general electorate knows little about DeSantis, and demonstrating how they can make the DeSantis polling numbers look worse by saying bad things about him. That’s a common campaign message testing strategy that campaign pollsters use to figure out their opponents’ weaknesses — it’s just usually not made public. Like the pro-DeSantis leaked polls, however, this pro-Trump memo was leaked to make a specific point.
That was before Trump’s latest indictment, but the arraignment in Miami looks to change little in the GOP primary race. The particular Trump vs. DeSantis electability data war is likely to continue, as DeSantis has chosen to attack the Justice Department rather than Trump. Trump still maintains three significant advantages that DeSantis and the other candidates will have to climb a mountain to overcome….
A moderate Republican would have a smoother pathway to victory than Trump or DeSantis, particularly given Biden’s lackluster numbers, age, and relatively low-key persona. But moderate candidates face a very difficult primary environment where ideologues are more likely to vote for strong conservatives. A March CNN poll showed 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would choose a candidate they agree with on the issues over a candidate who has a strong chance to beat Biden (41%). This undoubtedly favors Trump over other candidates. Michael Tesler pointed out in FiveThirtyEight that Republicans now equate Trump support with conservatism. The CBS News-YouGov poll showed that Republicans split 50-50 on whether they should focus on appealing to moderates and independents vs. motivating conservatives and Republicans.
There are still two significant complicating factors for Trump, though. The first is obviously his ongoing legal risk, with now two indictments and additional investigations ongoing. However, these investigations don’t seem to affect Republicans’ views of him, although an ABC News-Ipsos pollconducted after the second indictment does show that 38% of Republicans think the charges are serious, compared to only 21% in the first indictment. That said, the same poll shows that 80% of Republicans think the new charges are politically motivated, and nothing prevents Trump from running while under indictment — or even from prison.
The other complication is that the GOP primary field is large. It remains possible that one of these alternatives could catch on with voters and dislodge some of Trump’s supporters. A large field challenging an ex-president (an incumbent once-removed?) seems odd if Trump is really the party leader…