The man who used to occupy the Oval Office has been holding rallies and endorsing candidates across the country this primary season. And this past week provided crucial tests of his influence, from Michigan down to Kansas, across to Arizona and up to Washington state.
It is with Trump’s strength within the Republican Party that we begin our weekly journey into the numbers.
Trump is still strong among Republicans
Political analysts have long wondered when, or if, Trump’s grip on the Republican electorate is going to cease. There have been plenty of articles written about how his influence may very well be on the decline.
This past week, however, offered proof that Trump remains a power center within the party. It fits with other data suggesting that while the former President may not be as powerful as he once was, he remains a force to be reckoned with in the GOP.
Trump-backed candidates swept important statewide primaries in Arizona, including for governor (where Trump’s candidate defeated the one endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence), US Senate, state attorney general and secretary of state. All of them deny the fact that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election.
Likewise, in Michigan, Trump-endorsed Tudor Dixon won the Republican nomination for governor. And US Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump last year after January 6, went down to defeat in the GOP primary to another Trump-backed election denier in the 3rd Congressional District.
Trump’s pick for Kansas governor (Derek Schmidt) won his primary as well.
The former President has been quite successful this primary season in GOP contests with no incumbents or those featuring two sitting lawmakers because of redistricting. By my count, his candidates have won slightly less than 90% of contested primaries for governor or Congress that had either no incumbents or two incumbents because of redistricting.
That’s a strong number, though down from the 96% of such primaries his candidates won in the 2020 cycle.
So far, the only major contest from the past week that a Trump candidate lost was in the open primary for Washington’s 4th District. GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse advanced to the general election under the state’s top two primary system, even though he had voted to impeach Trump and had to withstand a challenge from the Trump-endorsed Loren Culp, who has been in third place.
But even Newhouse’s advancement proves the point that Trump remains a power center in the GOP. As of Sunday, Newhouse was pulling in a little more than 25% of the primary vote and only 34% of those who voted for a Republican candidate in the district. That is incredibly weak for a sitting member of Congress.
Indeed, Newhouse and California’s David Valadao, the only other Republican so far who voted to impeach Trump and made it to the November ballot, have commanded about 25% of the primary vote. And both have done so in primaries where all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, ran on the same ballot with the top two vote-getters advancing to November – which means there were a lot of non-Republicans voting.
Trump’s success in primaries this season shouldn’t be all that surprising given the national polls. His very favorable rating among Republicans is in the low 50s. This is down from around 70% at the end of the 2020 campaign, but it means that a little more than half of Republicans really like Trump. There isn’t another active candidate who comes close to that level of adoration.
Speaking of candidates who aren’t Trump, few nonincumbents have ever polled at or above where Trump is currently in early national presidential primary polls – he’s at about 50% of the national primary vote.
The non-Trump candidates to have done so in the modern primary era appear to be Democrats Al Gore, in 1998, and Hillary Clinton, in 2014. Both went on to win their party’s nomination in the next presidential election.
The closest Republicans were George H.W. Bush in 1986 and George W. Bush in 1998. Both were polling in the low 40s and would go on to win the GOP nomination.
While it is true Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been gaining on Trump nationally, he’s still about 25 points behind him.
Perhaps the best way to understand Trump’s standing in the GOP is to look at the verbs “could” and “will”. Trump could be beat if he decides to run for the Republican nomination. He will, however, be tough to beat.
A hazy picture three months before Election Day
Before we get ahead of ourselves with all this 2024 talk, there’s a big election to be held this year! The 2022 midterms are only about three months away, and the picture has become more uncertain as we approach the date.
Normally, midterms follow a simple pattern. The White House party loses seats in Congress (especially the House). This is especially the case when the incumbent president has an approval rating below 50%. Biden’s approval rating is below 40%.
Yet, the generic congressional ballot keeps getting tighter. The 3-point lead Republicans held in May has completely disappeared by now. (The generic ballot usually asks respondents some form of the following question: “If the elections for Congress were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican party?”)
This is unusual. Often, the challenging party improves its position on the generic ballot over the course of the midterm cycle.
The haziness in the national environment can be tied to what voters feel are the important issues of the day. Yes, the economy is the No. 1 issue. And yes, inflation remains historically high. This has led to a decline in real disposable income per capita (i.e., the money Americans have to spend).
Yet, there are facets of the economy that are quite good or at least improving. We are tied for the lowest unemployment rate in over 50 years. The stock market is up. Gas prices are down from their June peak.
Moreover, there are other issues besides the economy at play. Abortion may not rank as high on the list of voter priorities as the economy, but more Americans than at any point since at least 1984 say it is a top problem.
We saw this past week that abortion can motivate voters. Democrats saw a massive increase in voter turnout in Kansas compared with every other primary so far this season.
Answering the question of who will control Congress next year has become muddled in another way as well: The House and the Senate may be controlled by different parties.
Democrats will likely lose the House, even as the national picture for them improves. They just have too much exposure.
Democrats, though, are no more than a slight underdog in their effort to retain Senate control. We’ve seen good recent polling for them in battleground states such Georgia and Pennsylvania. Those same polls reveal that Republicans have had a problem nominating candidates who aren’t well liked.
The bottom line is people who are into elections are in for an exciting final three months of the 2022 campaign.
For your brief encounters: Football has begun
America’s No. 1 sport got underway Thursday, with the first preseason game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Las Vegas Raiders broadcast nationally on NBC.
And despite it being a completely meaningless affair, more than 5 million people tuned in. That is a small audience given how many people watch regular season games. But in a sign of how strong a brand the NFL is, the game was by far the highest rated show of the night.
Just remember: The preseason doesn’t matter. The last two teams to lose every single regular season game in a season won every game that preseason.
Drinkers and nondrinkers actually agree: A new Gallup poll shows that 75% of Americans believe that alcohol has a negative effect on society. This includes 85% of drinkers and 71% of nondrinkers.
Owning an electric car: While 67% of Americans favor providing incentives to increase the use of hybrid and electric vehicles, only 42% say they are at least somewhat likely to purchase one the next time they buy a vehicle, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Just 16% were very likely.
Winter is coming: As the heat rages on in much of the continental United States, winter storm warnings have been active in Alaska this weekend. It’s a sign that summer can’t last all year round. After all, we’ve lost over 20 minutes of sunlight at the end of the day in New York City over the past few months.