Monday, March 20, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- It's Trump's until it's not

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

Strategizing about the when, where and how to best defeat Donald Trump is not a new thing. In fact, it has not always been a particularly partisan thing. After all, just seven years and a day ago, the New York Times ran a story about Republican efforts to chart a course forward toward an alternative. That was not the first such story and it certainly was not the last. There are likely more on the way.

With the former president mounting his third bid for the Republican presidential nomination, the strategizing Trump's downfall industry his whirred back to life. And that is not without reason. It is spurred on by the relatively weaker hand Trump has in 2023 minus the incumbency advantage the then-president carried with him four years ago. And there are possible indictments looming over Trump in Manhattan, Georgia and the nation's capital. The terrain is both more different than it has been during the Trump era and all too familiar (at least in the ways that various actors, including Trump, are reacting and how the race is being covered).

Those weaknesses -- real or perceived -- are a lens through which the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is being viewed. But the underlying mindset is akin to giving folks a hammer: They are going to go looking for nails and probably "find" them. For example, Trip Gabriel of the New York Times had a recent dispatch from Des Moines, where all eyes -- Trump's and his rivals' -- are on the first nominating contest of 2024. And understandably so: the caucuses in Iowa are the first contest.
“I don’t see a formula where Trump loses Iowa and it doesn’t really wound him and his chances as a candidate,” said Terry Sullivan, who managed Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Or maybe New Hampshire will be Trump's demise. Republican strategist Susan Del Percio sees unaffiliated voters, who are allowed to participate in the presidential primary in the Granite state, as a key potential buffer against extremists lining up behind Trump. 

[As an aside, a Trump loss in Iowa would be less a signal about Iowa specifically and more one stemming from the fact that it is a caucus state. If Trump is losing among low turnout caucus electorates then that will say much about his institutional support within the party among a more motivated slice of the overall primary electorate. And that says nothing of the blow that would strike to the former president's organizational strength. As for independents in New Hampshire, maybe 2024 will be different. But Trump ran ahead of his statewide support in New Hampshire among independents in 2016. That may not be what starts the ball rolling against Trump in 2024.]

Of course, both of those visions are a bit more forward-looking into a future that has not accounted for the events that will transpire during the remainder of the invisible primary between now and when votes begin to be cast. Perhaps it will be in the courtrooms across the country where a Trump slide (or a resurgence!) begins. Seth Masket throws some water on that notion:
All this is to say that him being indicted will likely not harm him much in the presidential contest — his supporters will not turn against him — but nor will it help him. “Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters will support him enthusiastically if X happens” has been proven true time and again for eight years but doesn’t really tell us very much.
In the end, there are at least nine months left in the invisible primary. Things will happen. Needles will move. Candidates' fortunes will rise and fall. But right now, Trump is very much in the same position Jeb Bush was in 2015. That is not to suggest that the outcome will be the same for Trump as it was for Bush nor that the signals are not pointing more forcefully in Trump's direction now than they ever did for Bush then. But the majority of the invisible primary signals one looks at -- polls, fundraising, hiring, endorsements, organizational strength, etc. -- point in Trump's direction at this time. That may not continue to be the case as the invisible primary progresses, but it is the case now. 

That is why FHQ has been saying a variation on something in recent days that we often said back in 2015. Then it was "it [the 2016 Republican nomination] is Jeb's until it's not." Now, it is "it [the 2024 Republican nomination] is Trump's until it's not." In other words, the signals one relies on to tell one anything about the state of the race are pointing toward Trump. But that may not continue to be the case once indictments come down, or DeSantis enters the race, or a poor fundraising quarter is reported, or well on down the line, once votes begin to be cast in Iowa and New Hampshire. For now, however, it is Trump's until it's not.

How will public opinion react to a possible Trump indictment? Natalie Jackson says to look at the polling on January 6.

Harry Enten digs into recent CNN and Quinnipiac polls and finds that support among voters of color is part of what sets Trump apart from his competition for the Republican presidential nomination. 

Michigan Republicans are still "in a pickle" over whether to go the primary or caucus route in 2024.

On this date... 1984, Walter Mondale edged Gary Hart in the Illinois primary, winning a small plurality victory on his way to the Democratic nomination. The Illinois primary ended up fairly closely resembling the popular vote breakdown in the contest nationwide at its conclusion. 2012, Mitt Romney scored a double digit win over Rick Santorum in the Illinois primary, but dominated the former Pennsylvania senator in the congressional district delegates directly elected by a more than three to one rate. 2020, the Indiana presidential primary was pushed back from May to June because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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