Panelists point to political risks of GOP candidates challenging Trump in primary
TOPEKA — Former President Donald Trump announced a new White House campaign in November ahead of a 2024 campaign cycle that could be punctuated by a rematch with President Joe Biden.
Trump, who never conceded the 2020 race and suggested the U.S. Constitution ought to be suspended so he could be installed as president, could be weighed down by the the U.S. House’s criminal referral of Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, ongoing tax scandals and investigation of missing government records. His reelection loss also could erode support among independent voters.
U.S. voters evaluating a reelection campaign by Biden could point to dreary economic indicators, the president’s lackluster approval ratings and the Democrat’s age of 80 — four years senior to Trump. Biden said he intended to run, but would make such an announcement in early 2023.
The Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas recently assembled a panel of national political pollsters, consultants and journalists to explore potential of a Trump-Biden contest, weigh the standing of alternative candidates for president and consider issues that could factor into the outcome of the election.
Bill Lacy, former director of the Dole Institute of Politics: Will Biden seek reelection?
Molly Murphy, president of the Democratic polling company Impact Research: “Often when I get this question, the question I ask in response is: ‘Why wouldn’t he?’ I just don’t think you ring the bell unless there is a stark political imperative that you don’t do it or a personal one none of us in the room know about.”
Jessica Taylor, U.S. Senate and governor editor at Cook Political Report: “I assume he’s running until he says he’s not. When you’re the incumbent president, that’s just the default. Clearly, there are special circumstances with Biden given his age.”
Brendan Buck, NBC News political analyst: “If you’re a Democrat, you would think it would be pretty irresponsible for him not to run given that there is no obvious next person. You’d be throwing it open to a pretty wild primary.”
Lacy: Assuming Biden runs, would he replace Vice President Kamala Harris?
Gerald Seib, former executive editor of the Wall Street Journal: “I don’t know how you take the first African-American woman vice president off the ticket. We kind of have this conversation every four years and it never happens.”
Lacy: Can Trump deflect interest in a GOP run by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.S. Secretary of State and Kansas U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and others?
Jeffrey Horwitt, partner in Hart Research and Democratic pollster: “If you look at people who say they would support the (GOP) party more than Trump, they still like him. They just don’t love him. He still has that power over a significant part of the party. I will take the Republican field and say that someone else will be the nominee other than Trump. ”
Mike Shields, founder of the Republican strategy firm Convergence Media: “He is unprecedented in his ability to generate media attention. That’s an amazing weapon when you want to run for president. I’m not saying he’s going to win by any stretch. I also don’t think people should look at what’s going on in court cases and indictments and say, ‘This is the end of him.’ No, it’s not. He will use that to his advantage. There is going to be a multi-candidate primary. His popularity among the American people has gone down. Republicans are less supportive of him than before. But that does not mean he cannot regain his traction. He does better when he is speaking to that group of base voters … that felt like they didn’t have a voice before — working class voters who thought no one cared about them. That is the strength of Donald Trump’s candidacy.”
Seib: “He’s not going to clear the field. That’s also … his big advantage. You take the anti-Trump vote and split it 10 ways. He wins the states he won in 2016 with 25% of the vote.”
Buck: “Can I challenge the idea this is going to be a crowded primary? I think it’s a really difficult decision for any of these people to get in — even if you’re Ron DeSantis. You can’t beat Donald Trump by sort of wading in and saying, ‘I’m the alternative.’ You kind of have to go up against him and that’s not an enviable thing to do. I’d be surprised if Nikki Haley runs. Maybe I won’t be surprised if Mike Pompeo runs, but who cares? Maybe Mike Pence runs. If you do beat him, what does Donald Trump do? I don’t think he’s going to be a gracious loser. I don’t think he’s going to endorse the Republican nominee. He’s going to undermine you and then you lose to Joe Biden.”
Josh Jamerson, East Coast bureau chief for U.S. news at Wall Street Journal: “With DeSantis, he’s a winner. I do think there’s a lot of Republicans who took note of that on election night — how decisively he won (reelection as governor) and looked at something they could attach their voice to.”
Lacy: If the general election comes down to Biden and Trump, can Trump avoid a repeat of his 2020 loss to Biden?
Shields: “When the president’s approval rating is in the 40s and the economy is so terrible, of course the out-of-power party’s presidential nominee can win.”
Murphy: “Probably what you’re going to see, if it’s a rematch, is a really close contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. There aren’t that many voters that flip from cycle to cycle, particularly when it’s the same candidates. However, that was a really close contest and Donald Trump almost won.”
Taylor: “The electoral college map is somewhat more favorable to Republicans. That’s what it comes down to. It’s, of course, not the popular vote.”
Horwitt: “We like comeback stories, but we also like some sense of growth when people come back. Like, hey, they’re better than they were. There’s a new and improved version. One of the big challenges for him is showing growth and that he is a better person. One of the challenges there is to admit you lost the last election.”
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