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Ever since declaring his candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Donald Trump has enjoyed a commanding lead over the growing field of Republican rivals challenging the former president for the right to represent the party next November. Predictions that various other candidates — chiefly, but not exclusively Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — would act as a "Trump-slaying" opponent capable of toppling the decisive front runner have thus far failed to materialize. Nevertheless, Trump's future as the Republican nominee is far from inevitable. This week a CNN poll showed the former president has shed significant support in the immediate wake of his 37-count federal espionage act indictment, even though "there's little sign that Republican-aligned voters who aren't backing Trump are consolidating behind any one of his rivals."
So is Trump's 2024 reelection bid in serious jeopardy post-indictment, or is CNN's downward trending poll just a blip in his otherwise resounding dominance over the Republican field?
What are they saying?
Fewer than half of "Republicans and Republican-leaning registered voters say Trump is their first choice for the party's nomination for president," CNN's poll found, as support for Trump's candidacy dropped from 53 to 47 percent between May and July. Perhaps more significantly, Trump's overall favorability has dropped even more precipitously from 77 to 67 percent over the same time frame, as "the share [of respondents] who say they would not support him for the nomination under any circumstances has climbed, from 16% in May to 23% now."
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Calling Trump's federal indictment "a unique situation, to put it mildly," The Washington Post's Philip Bump described CNN's poll as "unsatisfying" for its inconclusive answer to whether Trump's political aspirations are in serious jeopardy. "When it comes to questions about concrete consequences for Trump, Americans are responding in the same way they have for years," FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich said this week in regard to the aggregate polls from outlets such as Ipsos, ABC, Reuters, and Data for Progress (but not CNN's just-released numbers). Noting that Trump saw a noticeable polling bump after his first indictment this past April, Rakich speculated that there hasn't been a similar increase for the former president in part because "anyone who was inclined to rally toward Trump" may have already done so. Conversely, "as the public becomes more familiar with the substance of the allegations" against Trump in the federal indictment, it remains to be seen if those details will "fundamentally loosen" his GOP standing in other polls beyond just CNNs, said NBC's Ben Kamisar and Bridget Bowman. To that end, "potential GOP primary voters ARE hearing bad buzz about Trump," Morning Consult's Eli Yokley pointed out. "They're 18 points more likely to have recently heard something negative than positive about him." Still, a slim majority of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents to CNN's poll indicated that Trump's alleged criminal conduct is less important to them since "a president's effectiveness matters more."
"It is still very early in the GOP nomination fight," Insider's Brent Griffiths said, with the race beginning to really "take shape over the summer." Moreover, "the indictments have not changed Republican voter perception about Trump's electability," Forbes' Ana Faguy pointed out, highlighting the fact that CNN's poll showed all but 13 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents indicated they thought Trump was at the very least "somewhat" likely to win the party's nomination. Accordingly, there's little appetite among the GOP for Trump to leave the race entirely, with just over a quarter of respondents saying he should drop out in light of his latest indictment — a number that climbs to 42 percent who say he should do so if convicted.
Still, despite the waffling support suggested in CNN's topline results, "Republicans have made up their minds about Donald Trump," GOP strategist Whit Ayres told PBS Newshour. "It doesn't seem like anything is going to change that," he added, predicting that as long as Trump is "still active," the race will "continue to revolve around him."
"It's early," the Post's Bump cautioned. "Things can still change. The indictment could spiral out of control for Trump." To that end, the former president's ongoing legal jeopardy "could still be the thing that finally erodes Trump's base of support in the party." Or, he added, it could be "just another stone" in the "expansive graveyard of scandals, gaffes and falsehoods" that were, at various times, the supposed end to Trump's enduring popularity.