Technically speaking, Donald Trump is still a long way from winning the Republican presidential nomination, but his victory Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary was enough to knock the Republican National Committee off the bench and into a corner.
“I think there is a message that is coming out from voters and it is very clear. “We need to unite around our eventual nominee, which will be Donald Trump, and we need to beat Joe Biden.” Ronna McDanielthe chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, saying in a recent interview on Fox News.
Other high-profile Republicans, such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, have followed suit, endorsing the former president even as he still has an opponent, Nikki Haley, in the nomination race. “To beat Biden, Republicans must unite around a single candidate, and it’s clear that President Trump is the choice of Republican voters.” Cornyn he said on the X website.
But at least one Republican has, predictably, expressed bitterness at the prospect of another Trump candidacy. “When people who voted for Reagan in 1976 and who have been conservative his entire life come up to me and tell me they don’t want to vote for Trump again, that’s a problem.” said Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who recently dropped out of the presidential race (and who also endorsed Trump). “So you have to find a way to solve that. “I think there is an enthusiasm problem in general, and I also think there are some voters who have dropped out right now and we have to find a way to get them back.”
DeSantis is right. He also underestimates the problem for the former president, whose victory in the New Hampshire primary rests on shakier ground than might at first appear.
As expected, Trump dominated among Republicans, the largest portion of the electorate on Tuesday. But among the 44 percent of primary voters who identified as independent, Trump lost, 58 percent to 39 percent. Among the 28 percent of primary voters who identified as moderate, Trump lost, 72 percent to 25 percent. And among the 48 percent of voters who had a college education or higher, Trump lost, about 56 percent to 42 percent.
There are other signs of trouble. 38 percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters said they would be dissatisfied if Trump won the nomination. Forty-two percent of voters said that if Trump were convicted of a crime, he would be unfit for the presidency.
It’s easy to dismiss all of this as the inevitable result of a primary in which independent and unaffiliated voters (including those who normally vote Democratic) can cast their ballots. But the majority of people who went to the polls this week were registered Republicans. Many voted in previous Republican primaries. For the most part, these voters were neither doctrinaire liberals nor resistance democrats; they were undecided voters who would determine the November elections in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
Trump is running, essentially, as an incumbent. And the results in New Hampshire are evidence that, compared to a typical sitting president running for re-election, he is weak. It doesn’t serve as a direct comparison, but it’s still instructive to look at the 1992 Republican presidential primaries, in which George HW Bush, the incumbent president, fended off a populist challenge from Pat Buchanan, a veteran Republican operative, conservative commentator, and harbinger. , in many ways, of the rise of Trump and Trumpism in Republican Party politics. Bush won the New Hampshire primary, 53 percent to 38 percent. But most commentators framed Bush’s victory as a near-catastrophic failure. Because? Because Buchanan’s strong performance underscored the president’s weakness among more conservative Republicans, not to mention the country as a whole.
You can see the limits of the comparison in the fact that Trump stands out among the most conservative Republicans. But this could mean, in the context of a general election, that he is on the wrong side of the divide within his party, especially if Haley remains in the South Carolina race and continues to attract independents and Republicans to his side. more moderate.
Burdened by a divided party and the lingering pain of a sharp recession in 1992 (unemployment peaked at 7.8 percent in June), Bush lost his reelection bid to a young upstart from Arkansas, Bill Clinton. With a tight labor market and rising wages, especially for those at the bottom of the ladder, President Biden has the advantage of a much stronger economy than Bush’s. However, he also presides over a divided party, whose younger voters, in particular, are deeply dissatisfied with the state of the country.
As he changes course in his campaign, Biden is in serious trouble. But amid all the attention on the current president is the fact that the former president is in an even worse position. Beset by legal problems, facing several criminal charges and consumed by resentment, anger and dreams of retaliation, Trump has done nothing to expand beyond the coalition he formed to try to win the previous elections.
Of course, no one in an election campaign has to be truly popular. He (or she) simply has to be more popular than the other person on the ballot. And at this stage, it’s hard to say who will overcome that hurdle.
Either way, there are arguments that Democrats are taking a risk by nominating Joe Biden for a second term. But there is an even stronger case to be made that Republicans are taking a catastrophic risk by nominating Donald Trump for a third time.