One of the least convincing arguments in politics is “electability.” The pitch is that “electability” trumps belief(s) and that primary voters should therefore get with the program and do the right thing. Which is: Vote for the candidate who asserts that he or she is the most “electable.”
It has worked in the past. Then-candidate Joe Biden’s pitch in 2020 was a variation of “electability.” He said he was the candidate best able (or “positioned”) to defeat President Trump. As it happened and at the time, two-thirds of Democratic primary voters and caucus attenders agreed that beating President Trump was the overriding issue. Biden was nominated as a result.
Prior to 2020, “electability” didn’t really sell with Democratic primary voters. In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders came within inches of defeating the “electable” Hillary Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination. In 2008, Mrs. Clinton argued she was the more electable candidate. Democratic primary voters took a pass on that and nominated Barack Obama instead. Travel further down the ballot a bit in past primary elections of either party and you will see one failed “electable” candidacy after another. Voters don’t appreciate being told to mind their own business. They think politics is their business.
So here we are in 2023 and guess what? Republicans of all kinds are saying that former President Trump is “unelectable.” Case in point:
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) says his party is done with Donald Trump. “He’s fading fast,” he said Thursday (1/12/2023) on CNN. ”He’s a proven loser who cost us the House in ’18, he cost us the White House in ’20, he cost us the Senate again and again, and I think we all know that.” Ryan said he believes Republicans are “moving past” the former president, who has already announced his 2024 candidacy to return to the White House. “I can’t imagine him getting the nomination, frankly,” Ryan said. (Sources: yahoo.com, cnn.com, twitter.com)
And it’s not just senior Republicans and major donors and elected officials from all across the country saying this. What Mark Halperin calls “the Dominant Media” are all but insistent that Trump cannot win in 2024. Okay, they mutter, maybe he can win the GOP presidential nomination, but there’s no way he can win the general election.
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There’s a way.
For starters, Trump leads President Biden, 48%-to-44%, in the most recent Washington Post/ABC News Poll. “Leads” is a bit misleading, since the error margin of the poll is plus-or-minus 3%. So: Biden could be leading Trump 47%-to-44%. Or he could be losing to Trump 50%-to-41%. Or the numbers could fall somewhere in between those two statistical extremes.
But it is impossible to argue, based on the Washington Post/ABC News poll, and many others taken recently, that Trump will certainly lose the 2024 general election, should he be the GOP nominee. It’s impossible to argue because it’s not true.
Can he win the GOP nomination? Halperin’s Dominant Media detect 958,000 harbingers and hints that indicate Trump’s campaign for the nomination is in “serious trouble,” and “losing altitude” and “fading.” Republicans everywhere, we are told repeatedly, are searching for a new champion. And there’s no question that Gov. Ron DeSantis, coming off an impressive re-election win in Florida, has emerged as a credible challenger.
But he hasn’t made a dent in Trump’s core support, which is in rural and exurban America. Those voters, by and large, remain fiercely loyal to Trump. I could argue their loyalty has grown more fierce, if that’s possible, in the last 3 months. But we don’t have time for that.
Instead, let’s look at some recent statewide polls.
- Trump leads DeSantis by 41 percentage points in New Hampshire. (Emerson)
- Trump leads DeSantis by 11 percentage points in Virginia. (Roanoke College)
- Trump leads DeSantis by 16 percentage points in Arizona. (OH Predictive Insights)
- Trump leads DeSantis by 13 percentage points in Kansas. (Remington Research)
Nationally, the numbers are even better for Trump:
- Trump leads DeSantis by 30 percentage points. (Emerson)
- Trump leads DeSantis by 16 percentage points. (Fox News)
- Trump leads De Santis by 23 percentage points. (Harris-Harvard)
(All these poll data are available at Real Clear Politics)
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Put the states’ primary polling together with the national polls (and do look at that chart) and there is no question that Trump is the favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination next year. He may be Mr. Loser in the opinions of Paul Ryan and an endless parade of talking heads on cable news, but he’s a good bet based on the data. And he’s a 50–50 bet to win the general election, at least for the moment. That data is available here.
The irony of all this ceaseless chatter about Trump’s electability is this: 80 percent of adult Americans would prefer that President Biden not seek re-election. Eighty percent. That is a staggering statistic. And there’s more: Roughly 60% of Democrats would prefer the party nominate someone other than Biden next year. If 80% of the nation and 60% of Democrats prefer that Biden not seek re-election, a case could be made that Biden is unelectable.
The case that the Biden re-election campaign is building is this: He’s the most electable. He’s the only Democrat who can beat Trump.