Trump has been the projected winner of the Republican presidential nomination since before he announced his candidacy.
Talking heads in print news, network news, cable news, podcasts and the blogosphere, are sharply divided on most things. But on this they are unanimous: Polling shows that Trump will be the Republican Party’s nominee in 2024.
They are so sure Trump will win that they are saying that Trump’s opponents are not running for the nomination, that they are actually auditioning to be his vice presidential choice.
Why are they saying that? Let’s think it through.
Polls as of August 24, 2023 (yesterday) show Trump holding a lead of 53.8% in a field of 12 candidates. The rest of the percentages are divided between the other 11 candidates. His nearest rival, DeSantis, scored a paltry 14.3% and the numbers dropped sharply from there. Assuming that all the candidates who failed to qualify for the first debate drop out soon, He will still face a field of 9 opponents with an almost 4 to 1 lead over his nearest rival.
That does make his nomination seem inevitable. But there is room for discussion. Here’s why.
For a start, it is months until votes are cast. While Trump’s base seems to hold through anything and everything that happens, there is still a big gap between polls in August and the first votes in January. Arguably, any candidate who can come through a sexual assault conviction in a civil trial and four felony indictments with that kind of commanding lead is truly bulletproof. I’m not disputing that.
If you’re a Trump supporter at this point in time, you aren’t going to be changed by anything less than a disaster of Biblical proportions that falls on your own head, and for many of you, not even then.
At the same time, I do think there’s a potential for surprises in the election ahead of us. I say that because the polls I’ve been talking about are not only way early, they are also most likely FUBAR.
They are polling likely Republican voters, which means they are polling people who voted in Republican presidential primaries in 2016/2020. That means they are polling Trump voters. That would be the normal — and accurate — way polls work in elections with someone who is basically an incumbent.
However, huge turnouts have a way of tossing polls into the garbage. If people who have never voted before get registered so they can vote this one time and then they actually go vote, the dynamics begin to shift.
The math of these things is that if you can hold the majority of the habitual primary voters of your party by a significant lead, no one can beat you in a primary election. That’s almost a certainty in elections. Even when turnout is huge, a significant command of those primary voters will put a candidate over the top.
Trump’s position is enhanced by the fact that he has many opponents who will divide the Trump-opposing vote. Also, due to changes the Republicans have made in their nominating process, the candidate who gets the most votes takes all the delegates, even if he or she gets far less than 50% of the overall vote.
That is why people are saying that these polls show that Trump will win the Republican nomination. They are probably right … if Trump’s people are motivated enough to get up and go vote.
However, if the turnout is extremely high, his margin will fall, and it will fall by a larger amount than usual in these things. I say that because Trump’s base does not grow. In most elections with a high turnout, even if the new voters swing heavily against the heads-on favorite, a percentage of them split off and still vote for that favorite. But Trump’s voters seem to be Trump’s voters. Nobody new is joining up. On the subject of Trump, people’s minds are made. So, a high turnout will work against him more heavily than it would any other front-runner.
Will we see election-day surprises in the Republican primaries? The only way I see that happening is if his opponents winnow down to one or perhaps two, AND if his supporters lose their enthusiasm because of all his indictments, or perhaps because of a conviction, and don’t vote. In that scenario, we might be surprised.
The critical component is something I mentioned earlier. The Republican Party changed their nominating procedure earlier this year to favor Trump. They did this for Trump, because he asked them to do it. Under the new rules, delegates are not divided by percentages. The candidate who gets the most votes in a primary, no matter how small the percentage of the votes he/she has, wins all the delegates.
New voters who are coming in to vote against Trump will divide their votes between his opponents. Trump’s voters will just vote Trump. The large field of candidates dividing up the vote against him is what makes Trump’s lead so commanding and impossible to chin.
Not only that, but Republican primary contests in 2022 revealed a political party that has fallen off the right side of the cliff. Republicans nominated open Neo Nazis, right wing extremists, and anti-democracy candidates at every level. They cast out almost everyone who stood for the Constitution and the rule of law.
So, given the quality of the candidates and the propensities of the Republican rank and file, it seems likely that no matter who next year’s Republican primaries cough up, he or she will be a threat to the survival of our Republic.
The bottom line is three-pronged. First, this is still early days. Second, the political climate is so abnormal and has been since Trump entered it in 2016, that polls are almost always FUBAR. Third, elections are won or lost based on who votes. Polls don’t vote.