Discover more from The Bulwark
NYT Poll Blows Up the Tim Scott/Glenn Youngkin Fantasy
The ideological divide among persuadable anti-Trump Republicans is a bridge too far for them to cross.
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER SHOT of pure blood reality for those in the GOP donor and strategist class who are still living in a fantasy world. A new poll from the New York Times and Siena College conducted last week and released on Monday laid bare just how hopeless a challenge to Trump from the non-MAGA wing of the GOP would be.
Here are the ugly topline results from among Republican likely primary voters:
Trump leads DeSantis 54-17 with no other candidate above 3 percent.
Among Trump supporters, 52 percent of respondents are considering Donald Trump only and nobody else.
Among the 46 percent primarily supporting other candidates or still undecided, 34 percent of them are still considering Donald Trump.
In a Trump-DeSantis head-to-head, the former president leads 62-31.
Among other candidates tested, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had a significantly better favorability/unfavorability rating than former Vice President Mike Pence (53/23 vs. 44/45)
Nate Cohn broke down the GOP electorate down this way:
So . . . not a lot of good news there. But the fact that the “MAGA base” is only 37 percent might leave some dreamers thinking they’ve got as much of a chance as Lloyd Christmas.
Yet for those who hope a Tim Scott- or Glenn Youngkin-type candidate will emerge to save the day, the details are even worse than those headline numbers indicate.
For starters, 71 percent of Republican likely primary voters do not believe Trump has committed any federal crimes. The same percentage believes that “Republicans need to stand behind Trump” when it comes to investigations. Of the 71 percent who say he hasn’t committed federal crimes, just 10 percent were willing to concede that he did something wrong, just nothing criminal. This leaves a comfortable majority of GOP primary voters who believe that Trump has done nothing wrong.
Next let’s look at some issues:
53 percent of Republicans oppose additional aid to Ukraine and 70 percent think we should pay less attention to problems overseas.
59 percent say that “keeping Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are” is more important than “taking steps to reduce the budget deficit.”
Just 17 percent think the United States has benefited from increased trade.
58 percent think “society should not accept transgender people as the gender they identify with.”
And, as a little lagniappe for Tom Nichols, there’s this: 69 percent think we should trust the common sense of ordinary people over the opinion of trained experts.
Not so nice.
These numbers are even worse when you look at it from the perspective of the “persuadable” MAGA voters in Nate Cohn’s analysis. Only 9 percent of those voters believe Trump committed crimes, and only 12 percent have an unfavorable view of him. Sixty-one percent think America is in danger of failing if we stay on the current track:
So to sum up: In order to attract a majority of GOP primary voters, a Tim Scott- or Glenn Youngkin-type candidate would have to appeal to a significant portion of voters who:
do not think Trump has done anything wrong;
think Trump should be supported in his legal battles;
oppose aid to Ukraine;
oppose Social Security and Medicare reform;
oppose free trade;
do not think transgender people should be acknowledged as the gender they identify with; and
like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
I am struggling to see a voter with that worldview waking up one morning and thinking that instead of Donald Trump they’re gonna turn to someone being pushed by the globalist Wall Street Journal Republicans. So that leaves a candidate who can more authentically appeal to MAGA voters as the only real option for defeating Trump.
BUT HERE’S WHERE THINGS GET REALLY TRICKY. If you are a candidate from the MAGA wing of the party, your problem is the inverse of the Scott/Youngkin problem. The part of the electorate that does not want Trump is fundamentally different from the gettable MAGA voters. They are more likely to have a college degree, think Trump’s done some criming, and like Zelensky and Mike Pence.
Cohn’s analysis has this group making up 25 percent of the party but based on other surveys it’s probably closer to 15 or 20 percent.
The initial DeSantis strategy was believing that he could maintain his hold on the quintile that was the most anti-Trump because they were so desperate to get rid of him, while running as an ultra-MAGA to appeal to the median primary voter. Say what you want about his execution, the reasoning behind that strategy is sound because at least it offers a hypothetical ceiling above 50 percent.
The problem is that DeSantis’s campaign has shown that there is a limit to how much the anti-Trump crowd will go along with the MAGA crazy. Among the voters not considering Trump, DeSantis is splitting the vote with his rivals. According to the Times survey, DeSantis only narrowly leads Chris Christie among the most stalwart “never Trump” voters, 16 to 13 percent. Overall, as Cohn notes, DeSantis has just 32 percent of voters who are not considering Trump.
Maybe all those people end up coming home to DeSantis if the race reaches a binary choice. Or maybe they aren’t part of the primary electorate anymore, further lowering his ceiling. But given the fundamental differences between the anti-Trump segment’s view of the world and the view of those voters who are needed to get a majority, everything DeSantis does to plug a hole in his support with one group is likely to create a new hole with the other.
That might be a bridgeable gap for a super-talented candidate. Alas.