Biden’s Greatest Ally?

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Former President Trump seems to be closing in on the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.  But his reaction to his New Hampshire victory could help him lose the general election this fall.  To maximize his chances for returning to the White House he must change his attitude towards those who do not yet support him.  Alienating them now may lead to defeat this fall.

Since Trump won last week’s New Hampshire primary, commentators have been almost unanimous in proclaiming him the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee.  Sure, there are many more primaries and caucuses ahead, but few see a way forward for Nikki Haley, Trump’s only significant primary opponent now.  Most of the polls and pundits say there’s nowhere—not even in South Carolina, Haley’s home state—where Haley has enough support necessary to start winning contests and stopping Trump.  It’ll be Trump vs. Biden again this fall—déjà vu all over again.

But the results from both the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses also show that while Trump’s core support is strong, it’s not necessarily broad.  Trump won 51% of Iowa’s GOP caucus participants, meaning 49% opposed his renomination.  And the 43% of the New Hampshire vote won by Haley, while clearly not enough to give her a victory, nonetheless indicates a large enough percentage of Trump opponents to be of concern.

And Trump’s potential weakness in the electorate becomes more apparent when one breaks down the New Hampshire returns.  Polls indicate Trump won at least 65% to 75% of the vote cast by New Hampshire Republicans, but only 33% (to Haley’s 60%) of the vote cast by New Hampshire independents voting in the Republican primary.  Herein lies a potentially major problem for Trump.

It’s probable that whoever wins the majority of the electoral vote in the general election will be decided in a small handful of states where neither Trump nor Biden is guaranteed victory—Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and maybe a few others.  In these states whoever wins the independent vote will win their electoral votes and the White House.  And because Trump and Biden are almost equally strong in these states, the shift of only a few thousand votes one way or the other will determine the next President of the United States.  A shift of only 45,000 votes in these states from Biden to Trump in 2020 would have returned Trump to the White House.

But Trump’s hold over the independent vote is shaky at best, as indicated by the New Hampshire results, and could be weakened should he actually be convicted of one or more felonies.  As noted in previous columns, Trump, even should he be convicted, will lose no support among the hard-core MAGA Republicans who form his base.  But Republicans less loyal to him, and especially independents, may well feel sufficiently repelled by the prospect of a convicted felon in the White House that they’ll vote for Biden’s re-election.

And Trump is making matters worse for himself with his threats to blacklist non-MAGA Republicans supporting Haley.  In a close election, he’ll need every vote he can get, and one doesn’t win votes by offending potential supporters.  He should learn from the case of one of his most loyal acolytes, Kari Lake.

Kari Lake was the GOP’s nominee for governor of Arizona in 2022.  Early polling showed her far behind the Democratic nominee.  But later polls showed that Lake’s superb communication skills and use of television—she had been a local news anchor before entering politics—were helping her become the slight favorite to win the governorship.  But shortly before the election, she gratuitously began to insult the memory and character of the late Arizona Senator John McCain and say she neither wanted nor needed the support of those Republicans who still admired him.  Her comments, as stupid as they were insulting and unnecessary, may well have alienated enough potential supporters to lose their support and hence the election.

So Trump needs to be careful.  The most recent poll reported by the Wall Street Journal shows him leading Biden 48%-41%–encouraging for Trump supporters but still relatively close.  Whether Biden on his own can improve his own poll numbers remains to be seen, but given his low poll numbers now, his capacity to help himself is doubtful.  But if Trump insists on driving away Haley’s supporters while alienating more independents as well, he’ll succeed only in defeating himself—thus becoming Biden’s greatest ally.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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