Talking Points

Is Trump on track to lose the GOP nomination in 2024?

I'm very much in favor of treating the conventional political wisdom with a healthy dose of skepticism, so I was eager to read a recent, short tweet thread from Nick Gillespie, an editor at large for the libertarian magazine Reason, asserting former President Donald Trump will not be the GOP nominee in 2024. That's a dissenting line I expect to hear with increasing frequency as we approach the next presidential election cycle.

A defeated one-term president doesn't often receive his party's nomination after his loss. But Trump isn't a standard presidential candidate. For one thing, he's managed to forge a powerful and seemingly lasting bond with a sizable faction of his party's voters. For another, he claims — and seems to have convinced an awful lot of Republicans — that he actually won the 2020 election. In that story, he's a winner out for revenge rather than a loser who rather pathetically refuses to accept his own defeat.

Yet Gillespie isn't buying it. In his view, Trump never came close to winning a majority of the popular vote; he's damaged his brand further with his lies about election fraud in 2020; and his hold over the Republican base is waning.

As evidence of that last point, Gillespie points to some boos Trump recently received from a staunchly anti-vax crowd when he announced he'd received his booster shot and bragged about his administration's role in bringing the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines swiftly and safely to market. Add in "rising stars in the GOP," like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will give Trump voters "95 percent of what they want," and it makes sense to conclude "Trump is as overcooked as one of his steaks."

The only problem with this analysis is ... there's no data to support it. An aggregation of early GOP primary polls has Trump pulling 52.4 percent of the vote, with the second-place DeSantis coming in with less than a third of that (16.4 percent) and everyone else deep into single digits. That's not a close race, and much stronger than Trump's polling through the entirety of the GOP primaries in 2016.

Moreover, when the polls are re-run without Trump included, the results show no similar consolidation around any alternative to Trump. DeSantis pulls in around 28 percent, followed by former Vice President Mike Pence at 16 percent, Donald Trump Jr. at 12 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 9.5 percent, and everyone else at 5 percent or lower.

That's not a picture of a party rallying around a substitute standard-bearer.

But the least convincing thing of all about Gillespie's thread is his opening contention that after the 2022 midterms, GOP "leaders will cut [Trump] loose." If the past six years have taught us anything, it's that there is no safer bet in Washington than wagering against Republican leadership taking Trump down. That's because the party's leadership responds to the voters, and the voters want Trump.

Until that changes, Trump will be on an easy track to win the Republican nomination if he wants it.