Former President Trump received a muted response from many Republicans when he launched his bid for the 2024 White House at Mar-A-Lago this month.
But his campaign sparks excitement and even some joy among Democrats.
Members of President Biden’s party are openly pining for Trump to become the 2024 Republican nominee, believing he is simply too flawed to win a general election.
They argue that today’s situation is significantly different from 2016, not least because voters now know what they’re getting with Trump in office. And Democrats are eager to have such an opponent to beat in an election that is likely to challenge their party.
“I’m hoping for Trump’s nomination because I think he’s the easiest candidate to beat,” former Vermont governor Howard Dean (D) told “The Briefing with Steve Scully” on SiriusXM this week.
Dean, a 2004 presidential candidate and then the head of the Democratic National Committee, noted that he warned his party in 2016 that Trump could win the presidency.
Now he insisted: “People are tired of this. They’re tired of seditious stuff, they’re tired of division, they’re tired of lies. If Trump gets the nomination, I think we have a good chance of flipping more states than last time.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently told The New York Times that while he thought a Trump candidate would be “an absolute horror show” for the health of American democracy, it would be “probably a good thing” for those who want the Republicans to lose in 2024.
Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh told this column that Trump is “infinitely weaker than he was.”
“You can always get burned making some of these predictions, but I just think he seems a bit of a depleted force,” Longabaugh said. “There’s a lot of dynamics that are very different from 2016.”
Even some on the right think the Democrats have a point.
An editorial from The Wall Street Journal the day before Trump’s campaign launch devastated his chances in 2024, complaining that after the 2020 election “the country showed it wants to move on, but Mr. Trump is refusing — perhaps because he can’t admit it to himself that he was a loser.”
The Journal’s editorial claimed that if Trump were to continue his campaign, “Republican voters will have to decide whether to nominate the man most likely to produce a GOP loss and total power for the progressive left.”
Democrats and Trump-skeptic Republicans believe the GOP has other candidates who could either prove more persuasive to central voters in a general election — or at least bring less baggage to the race than Trump.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) is as confrontational as Trump, but not haunted by the same degree of indiscipline, nor by legal troubles — and he just won re-election in his usually competitive state by 19 points.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) was elected in 2021 in a state that leans toward democracy, just a year after Biden edged Trump by 10 points.
Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants and the leading female contender for the GOP in 2024, would provide a much more inclusive face of the party.
Of course, Democrats — and pundits — have underestimated Trump before, most notably in 2016.
His candidacy was treated as an attempt at self-promotion or a joke in many places. The Huffington Post at one point ostentatiously announced that it would move coverage of his bid to the “Entertainment” section of its website. Several Democrats stated that Trump had no chance of winning.
Everyone knows how that ended.
However, now the argument that Trump is the weakest link has several new threads.
First, while the former president retains the fervent support of his base, he is unpopular with the general public.
An Economist-YouGov poll conducted Nov. 13-15 found that Trump was viewed favorably by 77 percent of Republican voters, but by only 41 percent of the total population. Fifty-two percent of all adults had an unfavorable view of him — notably higher than the other potential GOP contenders tested in the poll.
Second, the defeat of high-profile Trump-backed candidates in the midterms has strengthened the argument of those who believe the former president is an electoral liability.
Senate and gubernatorial candidates backed by Trump, including Pennsylvania’s Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano, Arizona’s Blake Masters and Kari Lake, and New Hampshire’s Don Bolduc all lost. The fate of another prominent supporter, former football star Herschel Walker, will be decided in Georgia’s second round of the Senate on December 6.
Then there’s Trump’s relationship to the festering legacy of January 6, 2021, the darkest day in recent American history. Even the Journal’s reliably conservative editorial acknowledged that “the deadly riot will forever tarnish his legacy.”
The Capitol insurgency is just one of the contributing factors to Trump’s sea of legal woes.
Attorney General Merrick Garland recently appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to take over the investigation of the January 6 events, as well as the separate investigation of sensitive documents found at Mar-a-Lago.
Any of those investigations could lead to criminal charges against Trump.
An investigation in Georgia into efforts by Trump and his allies to reverse the 2020 result in that state could also be damaging. Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) is moving forward with a massive civil suit against the Trump Organization.
Add it all up — and add in the voters who have simply grown weary of the Trump-fuelled chaos — and it’s easy to see why Democrats and some Republicans are finding it hard to see a path for the former president to win back the White House.
“I think we would all like Donald Trump to come back to power,” former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) recently told Gray Television.
“Trump has significant negatives that make it very difficult for him to get a majority of the vote,” Republican pollster Glen Bolger told this column.
Despite this, Trump remains the leading candidate in polls from the potential GOP 2024 field.
It looks like the Democrats might get their wish – and then they’ll find out if, again, they should have been careful about what they wished for.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.