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It Ain't Over
Trump has a lot of advantages, but this is just getting started
There’s been a tendency by a lot of political observers to view the Republican presidential nomination as essentially over. And to be fair, there’s some decent evidence to support this. To wit:
Trump is leading DeSantis by more than 20 points in polls.
My county party chairs survey now shows more chairs backing Trump than backing DeSantis.
Okay, all this granted. But I’d like to make the case that there’s still some significant uncertainty in this contest.
For one, it’s early! Ron DeSantis still has yet to officially announce his candidacy, and he may get some significantly good coverage and a polling boost when he does. (The DeSantis as DeSaster in DeCline stories are getting kind of played out.)
But relatedly, DeSantis still has some significant strengths to bring to the contest. In advance of his official announcement, nearly 40 Iowa Republican state legislators have endorsed Ron DeSantis. These include some very substantial Iowa names, like Senate President Amy Sinclair and House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl. Trump is obviously still very popular among Iowa Republicans, but there are quite a few prominent Republicans willing to publicly back an alternative. Do not underestimate this.
Relatedly, while DeSantis has yet to land such a substantial number of endorsements among legislators in other states, he has won the support of New Hampshire’s House Majority Leader Jason Osbourne. It’s not nothing.
And then there’s hiring. DeSantis has made some strong hires in Iowa and New Hampshire. Former Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Republican strategist Scott Reed are now chairing a super PAC in support of Mike Pence’s bid. Tim Scott has secured former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam as his national campaign co-chair.
The point is not that these hires are going to move these candidates from 3 percent to 30 percent support by next week. But what they do show is prominent Republicans unafraid to get into the mix. If the contest were over and Republicans were sure that Trump was the de facto nominee, they would not be jumping onto other candidate’s payrolls, especially when Trump has such a reputation for wrecking his opponents’ careers.
I’ll also note that the Republican presidential debates will begin in August. Yes, we’ve seen how he can dominate a large field of candidates on the debate stage. But he’s also become a more erratic debater in recent years. And the stage allows for moments from other candidates who have otherwise been frozen out of news coverage.
But perhaps the most important thing that could still stir this contest is the number of very large shoes that have yet to drop. Trump has been indicted for one set of crimes in New York, and has also recently been found liable for sexual abuse in a civil court. The election interference case from Fulton County, Georgia, is also pending, as are several other investigations.
The reason there are several high quality candidates in the race running against Trump without actually running against him is because they are waiting for something to take him out of contention. It’s not an unrealistic expectation that one or more of these court cases (combined with an impression by many in the party that Trump underperforms in elections) will turn enough voters against Trump to make his nomination vulnerable. At that point, DeSantis or Haley or Scott or someone else is maybe poised to win some of those Trump supporters whose judgment they never criticized. At least, that’s the theory, and it probably looks like a better plan than just attacking Trump head on.