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Do any Republican candidates stand a chance against Trump?

Aug 14, 2023

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Recent polls show that 54% of GOP voters support former President Donald Trump in the Republican primary election. Despite other candidates entering the race, the second-place contender, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, lags behind Trump significantly with just 17% support.

Straight Arrow News contributor David Pakman suggests that the chances of any candidate other than Trump securing the Republican nomination are slim unless potential indictments impede his candidacy.

What about Ron DeSantis? Ron DeSantis is the first name that naturally comes up, because Ron DeSantis has been steadily polling in second place for a while. The problem with DeSantis is that he has roughly lost 40-45% of the support that he once had. In the month of January 2023, polling had DeSantis around 30, low 30s. More recently, DeSantis is down to about 18. That represents a loss of 40-45% of the support that he once had. Although it is true that DeSantis has the most support of any non-Trump candidate, it is not clear how you go from losing 40% support to regaining it, and more, in order to surpass where Donald Trump is today. 

What could change that? Well, DeSantis has always had a sort of vibe of “I’m going to be around if Trump implodes.” Trump’s been arrested and indicted a third time — could happen a fourth time, it could happen a fifth time, some are saying even six. If it quite literally becomes impossible for Donald Trump to run a campaign because he’s going from trial to trial from court to court, or if Republican voters say “the fourth indictment, the fifth indictment was too much, I’m gonna bail “— I don’t think that’s likely — DeSantis conceivably could be there to pick up what falls off of Trump’s support.

But is it likely? It’s not super likely. 

I’ve received so many emails asking some version of the same question: Is there a path for anyone other than Trump to win this Republican presidential primary nomination? And the answer is almost certainly not, but let’s discuss how it could look. It’s really important to understand that after multiple indictments, after all sorts of campaign launches and posturing from different Republican candidates, Donald Trump still controls roughly 55% of the Republican primary vote according to most polls. It could be as high as 58, or in some cases, as low as 48. But on average, Trump is polling somewhere around 54 or 55%. 

 

This means he has essentially already won, unless other candidates can really get the vote out from new voters. In a way that does not seem mathematically probable. So Trump 55% of the vote in the Republican primary, all the other candidates together, divvying up the remaining 45%. So let’s talk about who might have a shot potentially.

 

What about Ron DeSantis? Ron DeSantis is the first name that naturally comes up because Ron DeSantis has been steadily polling in second place for a while. The problem with DeSantis is that he has roughly lost 40 to 45% of the support that he once had. In the month of January 2023, polling had DeSantis around 30, low 30s. More recently, DeSantis is down to about 18. That represents a loss of 40 to 45% of the support that he once had. Although it is true that DeSantis has the most support of any non Trump candidate. It is not clear how you go from losing 40% support to regaining it and more in order to surpass where Donald Trump is today. 

 

What could change that? Well, DeSantis has always had a sort of vibe of I’m going to be around if Trump implodes, Trump’s been arrested and indicted a third time. Could happen a fourth time it could happen a fifth time, some are saying even six. If it quite literally becomes impossible for Donald Trump to run a campaign because he’s going from trial to trial from court to court. Or if Republican voters say the fourth indictment, the fifth indictment was too much, I’m gonna bail. I don’t think that’s likely. DeSantis conceivably could be there to pick up what falls off of Trump’s support, but is it likely? It’s not super likely. 

 

The next name that is often mentioned is Vivek Ramaswamy. I interviewed Vivek Ramaswamy, not long ago. Ramaswamy has been very clear that he would pardon Trump. If Trump were convicted of federal crimes, remember, can’t pardon state crimes as a president. Ron DeSantis has implied he would pardon Trump, but Ramaswamy has been super clear. And there has been the story, the narrative that Ramaswamy is surging. The truth is the surge is not super impressive. Ramaswamy’s polling went from one to six, and then dropped back down to five. It’s a certain, percentage wise, it’s certainly impressive increase in polling. But at some point, the question has to be okay, he’s at five, he needs to get above 50, at least in some of the early states to justify staying in the race. How does he do it? I don’t see a clear path to that. And if you say well, what if he were able to somehow pick up all of the non Trump vote, remember Trump’s got 55. That means even if Ramaswamy gets all of the non Trump vote, he’s still only at 45. And I don’t know how in the world he’s going to do that. 

 

So then the next name that comes up in my mind, I skip Pence, Pence is dead on arrival, Nikki Haley dead on arrival, Tim Scott dead on arrival. We get to Chris Christie. Why am I skipping down to Chris Christie, who’s only pulling 2.5%? Chris Christie is running a different campaign to all of the other candidates in one particular way. He is going after Trump hard. People like Nikki Haley, say things like I think it’s time for a new generation of leadership, we need to change whatever. Doesn’t really criticize Trump in a serious way. DeSantis increasingly criticizes Trump, but he’s totally uncharismatic, and he lies all the time, and he just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to run a campaign. Christie does seem to have what it takes to run a strong campaign and is willing to be very clear that Trump is the problem, I’m not afraid of them, I’ll make him look stupid if we debate together and I will go through Trump rather than around him. In that sense, the Christie campaign is interesting. And to me Christie seems like obviously the sanest and most honest guy. The problem is in the numbers. He’s pulling 2.5%. He got to 2.6 at one point, he seems stuck at roughly 2%. 

 

It doesn’t seem that the Republican electorate wants a sane and honest guy. And so while the Chris Christie possibility is interesting, it doesn’t seem the Republican Party wants him. So we get back to the initial question: Does anybody other than Trump have a shot at this nomination? They have a shot, but it’s an increasingly unlikely and narrow path. And it seems that it is up to Trump. If Trump destroys his chances, he could end up losing, but as long as he doesn’t make any big mistakes, even multiple indictments don’t seem to be dissuading his followers.

 

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