(Trends Wide) — Former President Donald Trump is giving himself another chance. He announced last week that he is seeking to become the second man (after Grover Cleveland) to be elected to non-consecutive terms as president of the United States.
Trump’s move comes at a time when his political brand is at its weakest since his first presidential bid in 2015-2016. He remains a force to be reckoned with in Republican circles, and news that the Justice Department has appointed a special prosecutor to oversee investigations involving the former president could have a pro-Trump effect among Republicans. However, it is clear that his power within the party has waned after the 2022 midterm elections.
The easiest way to tell that Trump’s position is not what it once was is to watch the reaction to his 2024 presidential announcement. Many Republican elected officials and conservative media personalities gave him a big yawn.
Trump’s announcement earned him the support of very few elected officials on Capitol Hill. He was much more reminiscent of his first run in 2015-2016, when Trump initially garnered little support from lawmakers in Congress. The difference this time, of course, is that Trump is the former leader of the party that most Republican members of Congress had endorsed in 2020 rather than a political neophyte as he was seven years ago.
Instead, it seems there are as many senators (one) already backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as there are Trump. This is important because endorsements from party officials have historically been correlated with the success of presidential primaries.
I should point out that a lack of endorsement didn’t stop Trump in 2016, and it may not stop this time either.
However, Trump’s first offer may have been an aberration. He was up against more than a dozen competitors who divided support among the conservative political class. This is especially a problem in Republican primaries, which tend to be winner-take-all (or majority) matters, as opposed to Democratic primaries, which award delegates proportionally. Trump needed less than half the Republican vote to rack up many delegates quickly in 2016.
You may not get the same divided opposition in the 2024 cycle. Trump’s only obvious competitor right now is DeSantis.
The rise of Florida’s governor is perhaps the most important development in the 2024 Republican field. Trump still leads in several national primary polls, but DeSantis fares better in early national polls than any candidate who hasn’t been Trump for a long time. part of the primary cycle of 2016.
In his home state of Florida, DeSantis has surpassed Trump in almost every poll. In Trends Wide’s exit poll of Florida’s 2022 midterm voters, more Republicans wanted DeSantis to run in 2024 than Trump.
DeSantis’ lead in Florida is notable for a number of reasons, aside from the fact that the state has a large number of Republican delegates, who will likely be assigned the winner.
First, Florida is also Trump’s home state, and it’s the only place where the two men are on equal footing in terms of name recognition. DeSantis’ lead is a sign that as Republicans across the country get to know him better, they might move toward him. (DeSantis tends to have a higher favorable rating than Trump nationally among Republicans familiar with both men.)
Second, Trump won Florida in the 2016 primary against Sen. Marco Rubio. The fact that DeSantis now leads him there in the polls is arguably an indication that Trump is in a weaker position than he was in 2016.
But Trump’s problems go beyond party officials and the polls. Trump was able to challenge conventional wisdom in 2016 because he received a great deal of media attention. Basically, he crowded out the competition.
This time it won’t be so easy. I previously noted that DeSantis has shown a knack for generating a lot of media attention on Fox News. Trump’s name was not mentioned until page 26 of the New York Post run by Rupert Murdoch (whose editorial page leans to the right) the day after his 2024 announcement. Murdoch also runs the company that owns Fox News.
And if Trump wins the primary, he will still have to win a general election. That won’t be easy, as the 2022 intermediates proved.
I pointed out last week that Trump’s presence was one of the main reasons the Democrats did surprisingly well in the midterms. By making both headlines and acting like a quasi-incumbent president, Trump helped nullify what is normally a huge advantage for the opposition party in midterm elections with an unpopular incumbent in the White House.
Now, you could have imagined a universe in which Trump’s larger-than-life personality could have been useful if he were popular.
Instead, Trump’s favorable rating is at one of its lowest points in five years: 39%, according to the 2022 exit poll. That compares with a 46% favorable rating in the 2020 exit poll. and a 45% approval rating for his management in the 2018 exit poll.
In a presidential election where Trump’s name is actually on the ballot, you might imagine that his unpopularity is an even bigger factor.
We already know from history that it will not be easy for Trump. While incumbent presidents (such as Joe Biden) are at a disadvantage in the midterms, they benefit from their incumbency in the presidential election. Elected incumbents win more than 60% of the time when they run for another term.
The bottom line is that Trump has an uphill climb ahead of him in 2024, both in a Republican primary and a general election. He certainly can win a second term, but the odds are currently stacked against him.