No any candidate who leads their closest challenger by at least 20 points at this time in the modern era’s presidential primaries has ever lost the party’s candidacy.
According to a New York Times/Siena College poll of probable Republican primary voters released Monday morning, Donald Trump currently has a 37 point advantage over Ron DeSantis.
Prior to the Iowa caucuses in January, there is, of course, still plenty of time. No one from the contestants has ever entered a debate venue. Additionally, while no contender has ever had as much support and lost the nomination, no candidate has ever received as much support and been the subject of as many criminal prosecutions and investigations.
Even while it may be incorrect to label Trump as “inevitable,” the Times/Siena data shows that he has a devoted following that makes up more than one-third of the Republican electorate. Their backing won’t be enough for Trump to win the primary on its own. However, it is significant enough to make it incredibly difficult to beat him; maybe just as difficult as the historical evidence implies.
Here’s what we know about the depth of the support — and opposition — to Trump from our poll, and why it’s so hard to beat the former president.
The MAGA Base, Defined
This is populist. It is moderate. It’s low-key. It is persuaded that a catastrophe is imminent for the country. And it is incredibly devoted to Trump.
Using this definition, 37% of Republicans are members of Trump’s MAGA base. In the Republican primary, they “strongly” support him and have “very favorable” opinions of him.
Despite his failings, Trump is not supported by the MAGA base. It appears to support him because it doesn’t think he is flawed.
Of the 319 responses in this MAGA group, 0%, or not a single one, claimed he had committed severe federal offenses. Only 2% of respondents claimed he “did something wrong” when handling sensitive documents. More than 90% of respondents believed that in the face of the probes, Republicans needed to support him.
The Divided Republican Party
The MAGA base is simple to describe. The majority of Republican voters do not.
However, the remaining Republican electorate can be largely divided into two categories.
There is a segment of people who may not be huge fans of Trump but who are open to voting for him in the primary and, in some situations, prefer him over the competition. This group is mostly representative of the Republican electorate as a whole: It is somewhat conservative, slightly supportive of Trump and DeSantis, and split on whether to back the outgoing president, at least for the time being.
These two voter groupings don’t simply disagree about Trump; they also disagree about the topics. While they reject a ban on six-week abortions, Trump’s detractors are in favor of increased military and economic help to Ukraine as well as comprehensive immigration reform. On the other hand, all of those concerns are opposed by the persuadable voters.
However, in order to defeat Trump, a candidate must find a way to unify almost all of these votes.
The DeSantis Challenge
Any candidate would have a difficult time uniting the divided opposition to Trump.
The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, has undoubtedly experienced hardship.
He appeared to have found out how to win over both conservative and moderate Trump skeptics at the beginning of the year by concentrating on a fresh set of issues: the struggle against “woke” and the removal of coronavirus limitations. This seemed to excite conservative activists and Fox News hosts just as much as establishment funders and even some independents.
It didn’t work out that way, though. Despite odd social media videos, the battle against woke has provided few opportunity to criticize Trump, and COVID has lost political clout.
DeSantis is performing poorly enough among Trump skeptics to create room for other contenders, much like Cruz’s conservative image made room for the ultimately unsuccessful candidacies of John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush.
With candidates like Chris Christie, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy each garnering between 5% and 10% of the support, DeSantis only manages to hold 32% of voters who aren’t considering Trump.
DeSantis has a slim advantage over Christie among “Never Trump” voters who would not back Trump against Biden in a hypothetical general election rematch, 16% to 13%.