🎃 Happy Halloween! It’s Tuesday, October 31, 2023. The 2024 elections are 371 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.
The winnowing process — the term coined by political scientist Donald Matthews in 1978 to describe the quadrennial thinning of the herd in presidential primaries — has begun in the 2024 Republican contest, as I wrote yesterday.
With two and a half months to go until the Iowa caucuses, the next major benchmark in the GOP race will be the upcoming debate in Miami next Wednesday. So far, only five candidates have qualified for the debate: Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, and Donald Trump (who is set to skip the showdown and hold his own South Florida rally the same night)
Tim Scott, the once-great hope of Republican megadonors, and Doug Burgum, the North Dakota governor, have met the fundraising criteria to qualify for the debate but not the polling criteria, per Politico. Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor who just lost his campaign manager, has not hit either threshold. Any candidates who don’t make the debate stage next week will face pressure to be the next to join Mike Pence in the 2024 Republican graveyard.
In fairness to Tim and Doug, qualifying for the debate stage has been made even harder this year by the fact that such a scarcity of presidential primary polls are being conducted, giving them a smaller pool to draw from. Just 14 national GOP primary polls were conducted this month, according to an analysis of RealClearPolitics data, less than half of the 29 Democratic presidential primary polls taken in October 2019.
There are many reasons for this change: some pollsters have stopped surveying presidential races, skittish after widely publicized misses; most polls have traditionally been sponsored by media organizations, who are trimming down on the expensive practice to cut costs.
But the lack of polling is also symbolic of the diminishing attention being paid by journalists and voters alike to the 2024 election. With a crop of other major stories competing for airtime (chaos in Congress, a pair of wars overseas) and a little drama expected in either primary outcome, many Americans seem to be tuning out from the race, at least for now.
In 2020, networks raced to host their own town halls with the presidential candidates. This year, such events have mostly died down; TV stations barely even cover the town halls candidates are holding themselves each day in Iowa, New Hampshire, and the like. The main action in the 2024 primary is now mainly happening behind the scenes — in state party meetings and glitzy donor summits, where party elders are convening in an increasingly desperate effort to head off the former president’s comeback bid. (Trump himself has been spending more time in the courtroom than on the campaign trail recently.)
Just how difficult will it be to dislodge Trump from the head of the Republican pack? Here are five stats that have stuck with me recently, showing the extent of Trump’s grip on the GOP:
1. Trusted news source
Trump voters trust the former president more than they do their friends and family, according to a recent CBS News/YouGov poll.
According to the poll, 71% of Trump voters feel like the information he tells them is true; only 63% say the same about their own friends and relatives. 56% say they trust the information coming from conservative media figures, while 42% say the same about religious leaders.
If Trump voters have so few trusted sources outside Trump himself, there are not many people who might be able to steer them away from supporting the ex-president.
In the same poll, 61% of the Republican voters who said it was “very important” for a presidential candidate to be “honest and trustworthy” said their top primary choice was Trump, who made more than 30,000 false or misleading claims as president.
2. Man of religion?
And yet, 53% of Republican voters view him as a “person of faith,” according to a HarrisX/Deseret News poll. Fewer Republican voters said the same about Mike Pence (52%), whose devot Christianity is central to his political identity, and Mitt Romney (35%), who frequently cites his Mormon faith.
The Romney number in particular shows just how many questions in Republican politics are ultimately questions about faithfulness to Trump before anything else.
3. Ineffective attacks
A well-founded conservative has tested more than 40 anti-Trump TV ads over the course of this primary cycle. They found none of them to be effective, according to a memo obtained by the New York Times last month.
“Even when you show video to Republican primary voters with complete context of President Trump saying something otherwise objectionable to primary voters, they find a way to rationalize and dismiss it,” Republican operative David McIntosh wrote in the memo, unearthing an important psychological point about the strength of Trump’s support.
“Every traditional post-production ad attacking President Trump either backfired or produced no impact on his ballot support and favorability,” McIntosh added. “This includes ads that primarily feature video of him saying liberal or stupid comments from his own mouth.”
Messages the group tried included attacks on Trump’s “handling of the pandemic, promotion of vaccines, praise of Dr.Fauci, insane government spending, failure to build the wall, recent attacks on pro-life legislation, refusal to fight woke issues, openness to gun control, and many others,” per the memo.
4. Trying to consolidate
Republican donors and pundits are increasingly trying to convince their crop of candidates to avoid a 2016 repeat and consolidate behind Nikki Haley as a non-Trump alternative before it’s too late. But such an effort could backfire, at least in Iowa.
According to a Des Moines Register/NBC/Mediacom poll of Iowa Republicans released yesterday, 41% of DeSantis voters say Trump is their second choice — which means the Florida governor clearing the way for Haley might only make Trump more inevitable. (27% of DeSantis voters say Haley is their second choice. Haley voters would be more likely to remain opposed to Trump if she drops out. 34% of her backers say DeSantis is their second choice, compared to 12% who say it’s Trump.)
Beyond showing the difficulties of consolidating, the Iowa poll also offered another reminder of how much stronger support is for Trump than for other candidates. Only 37% of Trump backers in the poll said they could be persuaded to switch their vote, compared to 70% of DeSantis voters and 74% of Haley voters.
Trump supporters are also strikingly more enthusiastic about their choice:
5. Who’s searching for who
In previous presidential elections, Google search data has been proven to be an effective predictor for results. By that metric, Trump is poised to win the 2024 Republican primary in a walk.
Eight years after his entrance on the political stage, curiosity about Trump continues to crowd out curiosity about any of his rivals. In the past week, 49% of Google searches about a Republican presidential candidate were about Trump, compared to just 15% that were for DeSantis.
In conclusion: Donald Trump’s supporters are highly enthusiastic about him, view him as a man of faith, and trust him above all others, while attacks against him are sputtering and the attention being paid to him ranks well above the attention being paid to his rivals.
The GOP’s “Never Trump” donor class might not see anything more spooky this Halloween.
More news to know.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) unveiled his first major legislative package last night, a $14.3 billion aid package for Israel. The package would also cut $14.3 billion in spending allocated to the IRS by congressional Democrats in 2022. (Johnson presented the IRS cut as a spending offset, but it would likely add to the deficit since it would lead to the government taking in less revenue.)
By using the package to claw back the IRS funding, Johnson is making a risky opening gambit as speaker — turning an otherwise bipartisan piece of legislation into a partisan scuffle. The White House denounced the move, while Senate Democrats have deemed the measure “dead on arrival.” At least one leading House Republican has also called on Johnson to remove the IRS provision from the package, and to fully fund President Biden’s request for aid to Ukraine and Taiwan as well.
More news from Israel and Gaza:
- Under Shroud of Secrecy, Israel Invasion of Gaza Has Begun / NYT (free)
- Gaza population being “dehumanized,” UN agency warns as Netanyahu rejects ceasefire calls / CNN
- Israeli military rescues soldier held hostage by Hamas in Gaza / Axios
- Cori Bush becomes the latest Squad member to pick up a pro-Israel challenger / Jewish Insider
The latest on 2024:
- Democrats launch write-in campaign for Biden in N.H. / Politico
- Why Less Engaged Voters Are Biden’s Biggest Problem / NYT
- Trump’s old-age issue in spotlight as he mocks Biden / Axios
- Why Trump’s Drastic Plan to Slash the Government Could Succeed / WSJ
- Treasury set to borrow $776 billion next quarter, the most ever borrowed in the fourth quarter / CNN
- Cops were sent to Maine gunman’s home weeks before massacres amid concern he “is going to snap and commit a mass shooting” / CNN
- Senate Democrats plan to subpoena influential Republicans over gifts to Supreme Court justices / NBC
The day ahead.
President Biden will announce new actions relating to “junk fees” and meet with a bipartisan group of senators about AI.
The Senate will vote to confirm former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who also served as White House chief of staff under Obama, as ambassador to Israel.
The House is not in session.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over whether local officials can block constituents on social media.
Thanks for reading.
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