News from California, the nations and world - Los Angeles Times 😚😔😓 Opinion | Trump is losing ground in the 2024 primary. Here’s why. - The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

OpinionTrump is losing ground in the 2024 primary. Here’s why.

Supporters of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis display signs as he speaks in Hollywood, Fla., on July 23. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg News)

Donald Trump leads in primary polls and is well-liked by his party — but his position is worse than it was a year ago. Surveys show half of Republican voters are considering other candidates. Candidates endorsed by the former president have lost inGeorgia, Idaho, Nebraska, North Carolina and South Carolina. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is gaining ground in primary polls, emerging as a plausible challenger for the nomination.

Why has Trump’s position deteriorated?

One reason: Trump used to take positions that helped him stand out from other leading Republicans. But he hasn’t done that for the 2024 primary. He is focused on the “big lie” — an issue that’s less potent than it appears — and allowed Trumpian alternatives such as DeSantis to gain ground.

Trump once had an exclusive claim on key issues. Now, he doesn’t.

When Trump first ran for president in 2016, he took an unusual, three-pronged approach: He zoomed to the right on immigration, tacked toward the centeron economics and attacked the GOP establishment at every opportunity. He distinguished himself from a field crowded with traditionally conservative career politicians — and he won the nomination.

But since then, Trump has lost his unique claim on each part of this approach.

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We’ll start with immigration. In 2016, Trump was the most outspoken immigration opponent in the GOP field. His rivals — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former governor Jeb Bush (Florida) and then-Gov. John Kasich (Ohio) — either actively supported immigration reform or had mixed records. That gave Trump a special appeal to anti-immigration voters, who felt ignored by their party.

The Pew Research Center captured this discontent: They found that 59 percent of Republicans said their party was not doing a “good job” on immigration in 2015.

But Republicans almost unanimously approved of Trump’s approach to the issue.

Trump’s potential rivals in 2024 noticed this difference — and have carefully built restrictive records of their own. DeSantis is on a multiyear crusade to ban “sanctuary cities” in Florida. Former vice president Mike Pence, who often places third in GOP primary polls, advocates completing Trump’s border wall. Even Nikki Haley, a former U.N. ambassador and moderate favorite, opposed Trump’s ban on immigration from majority-Muslim countries but hit President Biden for proposing “amnesty,” and ratcheted up immigration enforcement during her time as South Carolina governor.

Trump has also lost his edge on economic issues. In 2016, he stood out from his rivals by defending Social Security and signaling support for universal health care. But in office, he passed conservative tax cuts, fought regulation and governed like a traditional Republican.

Voters noticed. In 2016, the American National Election Studies (ANES) poll asked respondents to place Trump and Hillary Clinton on an ideological spectrum, running from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. Collectively, they rated Trump as only “slightly conservative” — closer to the center than any Republican nominee had been in the past 40 years. But in 2020, voters saw him as more conservative.

Where voters placed

Trump, Clinton and Biden

on a scale from extremely

liberal to extremely

conservative

Extremely

liberal

Extremely

conservative

Moderate

2016

Clinton

Trump

Trump

Biden

2020

Note: Points are determined by translating

ideology to seven point scale and calculating

a weighted average of where voters place

each candidate

Source: American National Election Studies polls,

Alan Abramowitz, Sabato’s Crystal Ball

Where voters placed Trump,

Clinton and Biden on a scale from

extremely liberal to extremely

conservative

Slightly

cons.

Extremely

cons.

Extremely

liberal

Slightly

liberal

Liberal

Moderate

Cons.

2016

Trump

Clinton

Trump

Biden

2020

Note: Points are determined by translating ideology to

seven point scale and calculating a weighted average of

where voters place each candidate

Source: American National Election Studies polls, Alan

Abramowitz, Sabato’s Crystal Ball

Where voters placed Trump, Clinton and Biden on a scale

from extremely liberal to extremely conservative

Extremely

liberal

Slightly

liberal

Slightly

conservative

Extremely

conservative

Liberal

Moderate

Conservative

2016

Clinton

Trump

Biden

Trump

2020

Note: Points are determined by translating ideology to seven point scale and calculating

a weighted average of where voters place each candidate

Source: American National Election Studies polls, Alan Abramowitz, Sabato’s Crystal Ball

Alan Abramowitz, the Emory University political scientist who originally computed these statistics, attributed this movement partially to Trump’s conservative economic record. Republicans remember the Trump economy fondly — but now little separates his approach from that of DeSantis or Pence.

Maybe most important, Trump’s status as an anti-establishment figure has been muddied by his four years in office. During the 2016 cycle, a solid chunk of rank-and-file Republicans viewed their party unfavorably, and most wanted to nominate an outsider. This discontent helped Trump.

But now, half of Republicans think Trump’s wing of the party and the establishment have buried the hatchet.

Moreover, Republicans admire their party more than they did before Trump’s takeover. For much of 2015 and 2016, only 50 to 60 percent of Republicans viewed their own party favorably. Now, after some ups and downs, that number is up to 75 percent.

Heading into a possible third run for the White House, Trump is a victim of his own success: By rehabilitating the GOP in the eyes of its voters, he deprived himself of a useful antagonist. Moreover, it might be tough for Trump, who spent four years inside the White House, to again claim the outsider mantle.

Trump’s new issue — the ‘big lie’ — has two downsides

Since leaving office, Trump has tried to replace these issues with the (false) claim that he was the rightful winner in 2020. This issue might seem helpful — 73 percent of Republicans say Biden did not legitimately win the election. But there are two key problems.

First, Trump angered a chunk of his party by pushing to overturn the 2020 election. According to the Times-Siena poll, nearly 1 in 5 Republican primary voters said Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 “went so far that he threatened American democracy” and a quarter of Trump voters maintain (correctly) that Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. By themselves, these voters aren’t numerous enough to stop Trump from getting the nomination — but they might be the base for an alternative GOP nominee.

Second, election fraud is not a priority for most Republicans.

In three consecutiveFiveThirtyEight-Ipsospolls, “election fraud or security” emerges as, at best, a secondary issue, with about 1 in 5 Republicans listing it as a top concern. Moreover, Echelon Insights, a GOP polling and analytics firm, found that 4 in 10 Republicans believe Trump’s focus on 2020 is a good reason to oppose him in 2024.

The “big lie” has political power: Several election-affirming Republicans have struggled in 2022 primaries. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the House’s Jan. 6 committee, is in danger of losing her primary later this month. Two Republican congressmen who voted to impeach Trump — Peter Meijer of Michigan and Tom Rice of South Carolina — lost to pro-Trump challengers. And pro-impeachment Republicans Reps. Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio) and Fred Upton (Mich.) retired rather than face GOP primary voters.

But other election-affirming Republicans, such as Georgia's Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, beat Trump-endorsed challengers handily. And DeSantis might have found his party’s (very ugly) sweet spot: He doesn’t affirmthe 2020 results (avoiding Trump’s ire and a dangerous primary challenge) but he doesn’t obsess over the last election, either.

Reality check: Trump is still the favorite — but his grip is weakening

According to the RealClearPolitics poll average, 50 percent of the GOP backs Trump, and DeSantis trails at 24 percent. Two-thirds of Republicans want the party to “follow Trump’s leadership.” Trump is still the dominant figure in the GOP — and if he focuses on attacking Biden and promoting his accomplishments, he might sail to the nomination.

But these numbers suggest that Trump’s grip on the GOP isn’t what it once was. If Republican voters find a more effective vehicle for their right-wing populism — someone who enjoys fighting the left and can win the popular vote — the former president could face a serious challenge.

News from California, the nations and world - Los Angeles Times 😚😔😓 Opinion | Trump is losing ground in the 2024 primary. Here’s why. - The Washington Post