Not yet a Republican primary race | ET REALITY


Donald J. Trump’s lead in the Republican primary continues to grow.

He violated 60 percent of the votes in Fox News and Quinnipiac polls from last week, including leads of 60-13 and 62-12 over his closest rival, the not-so-close Ron DeSantis.

Even more notable: Their gains follow what would be considered a disastrous 50-day period for any other campaign. Since early August, he has faced new federal and state criminal charges for attempting to subvert the 2020 election. He skipped the first presidential debate, which however was noticed by more than 10 million people. Not only did it not hurt him, but he came out stronger.

With these latest developments, Trump is inching into rarefied territory. The latest polls show him as good as any candidate in the history of the contested modern presidential primaries. He is closing in on the position of George W. Bush, who led John McCain by a similar margin at this stage of the race in 2000. And in the two polls mentioned above, he agrees with Bush’s position.

The 2000 election is a useful reminder that the race could still become more competitive. Bush skipped the first two debates, but McCain ultimately won New Hampshire, clearing the field of major opponents, and ultimately winning six more races. Of course, he didn’t win. He didn’t come closer. But at least it was a race. That’s more than can be said right now for Trump’s competition, which would probably go 0-50 if states voted today.

On paper, Trump faces greater risks than Bush, including the risk of being imprisoned. Along the way, he is relatively weak in Iowa, where his recent comments on abortion (he called a six-week ban “a terrible thing”) could generate additional skepticism among the state’s religious conservatives. In fact, Trump’s lead in Iowa (approximately 45-15) is quite similar to where Bush was in New Hampshire at this time 24 years ago.

Unlike Bush, Trump has not consolidated the support of Republican elites. Unlike McCain, DeSantis is not simply a factional candidate. There remains a chance, however unlikely it may seem today, that Trump’s skeptics will consolidate against him, perhaps buoyed by an unprecedented criminal trial in the heart of the primary season.

But to this point, the theoretical risks for Trump have not materialized. More than anything, this probably reflects his unique strengths. He is a former president, not the son of a former president. Perhaps this race is more like that of a president seeking re-election than a typical open and contested primary. At the very least, his resilience in the face of electoral defeat and criminal prosecution is a powerful indication of his unusual position.

And in contrast to McCain at this stage of the 2000 race, Trump’s opposition is well known. It’s probably fair to say that DeSantis has faded more than he’s been completely defeated, so there’s room for a resurgence, something like McCain’s comeback in 2008. But the easiest path to emerging in a primary is usually to be discovered by first-time voters, and that path will not be available to people like DeSantis, Mike Pence and Chris Christie.

The winner of the first debate. could have been Nikki Haley, but she represents something of a best case for Trump: moderate and strong enough to take anti-Trump votes away from DeSantis; too moderate to pose a serious threat to DeSantis or to win the nomination.

So while history and current circumstances suggest a path toward a closer race, it’s worth being frank about what we’re seeing today. This race currently has many of the characteristics of a non-competitive race, such as an overwhelming lead in the polls, a leading candidate who does not need to debate, and party leadership that is unwilling to attack the front-runner, despite his strong reservations. It’s very similar to what we see in the Democratic race, which is not considered competitive. In fact, Trump’s lead in the latest polls is becoming as large as President Biden’s recent lead over Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Of course, there are several ways in which the Republican race differs from the Democratic one. Unlike Biden, Trump has traditional rivals. The Republican race is closer in the early states, where Trump is below 50 percent. If DeSantis beat Trump in Iowa, perhaps Republicans could quickly unite around him, just as pro-Biden moderates did against Bernie Sanders in 2020. And there is the extraordinary prospect of a federal trial in March. Together, it’s easy to imagine how this becomes a competitive race again.

But while the race could become very competitive in the future, it’s not exactly competitive today.

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