Mar 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

The GOP's bubble of Trump denial

Photo illustration of the word GOP, with the O as a bubble that pops, revealing the profile of Donald Trump.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Several top Republicans keep saying there's no way former President Trump can win the 2024 GOP nomination — but polls say he can.

Why it matters: Trump's rivals and critics underestimated him in 2016, often treating him as a sideshow rather than a front-runner. They risk repeating that mistake.

  • Many of those either running for the GOP nomination or considering a run are spending more time focused on dinging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis than Trump, the actual frontrunner.

What they're saying: Many leading Republicans continue to dismiss Trump's chances in 2024, pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection he inspired as well as polling that has indicated many Republicans want new leadership.

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, declared on "Meet the Press" last week that Trump's "not going to be the nominee, that's just not going to happen."
  • Days later, an Emerson poll in the state found Trump leading DeSantis—widely seen as Trump's chief GOP competition — by 41 points.
  • Former House Speaker Paul Ryan told the New York Times this week: "I don’t think Trump is going to get the nomination. The ace in the hole reason is that he’s unelectable. Even most of MAGA knows this."

Between the lines: At the beginning of the year, the conventional wisdom was that Trump was a spent force, and that his support would dissipate over time.

But, but, but: Last month's Emerson poll found Trump winning 72% support among Republicans with a high school degree or less education.

  • As CNN's Ron Brownstein put it, "Trump’s extraordinary success at attracting Republicans without a college degree allowed him to overcome sustained resistance from the voters with one."

Driving the news: Trump has been playing up his ties to his base of disillusioned Americans.

  • At CPAC, he declared he was the vehicle for those wronged by the political establishment. "I am your voice ... I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution."
  • He's also drawn distinctions with his Republican rivals by insisting he'll protect Social Security and Medicare.
  • Last month, he visited East Palestine, Ohio, to commiserate with residents suffering from a chemical spill — and later stopped by a McDonald's, where he posed for pictures with the staff.
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