Republican lawmakers say GOP voters are shifting away from former President Trump because of widespread doubt he can win a general election in 2024.
They say the disappointing results of the 2022 midterm elections, in which several high-profile Trump-endorsed candidates lost key races, reenforced the view that Trump doesn’t appeal to independent and moderate GOP voters.
They note that Trump’s expanding legal problems and recent gaffes give his potential Republican rivals plenty of ammo to use in the 2024 primary and have only increased the Trump fatigue many feel.
And they are increasingly willing to go public with their concerns.
“We win general elections when we bring independents with us. We need more than simply the loyal base that understands conservative principles,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “That’s the reason why you’re seeing the polls suggest that we have a number of individuals who would get more votes [than Trump] in the general election and so that’s going to drive the determination who we bring as our candidate.”
Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign, which he launched on Nov. 15, has failed to gain traction in part because he has continued to push unsubstantiated claims that he lost the last presidential election because of widespread fraud.
“I don’t think it was helpful when the issues he was focusing on after he announced [his 2024 presidential campaign] related to the 2020 election. I think if he’s going to succeed, he has to focus on the future. I think if he focuses on the past, he won’t succeed,” she said.
“I do believe that people are over the 2020 election, and they want to move on,” she added.
A third Republican senator, who requested anonymity to discuss Trump fatigue among GOP voters, said “people are tired of losing.”
“If Trump was winning or if we were winning Senate seats or got a big majority in the House or got the majority in the Senate, many people would judge former President Trump differently,” the senator said.
“I have those kind of conversations with constituents frequently, and they say, ‘It’s probably time to move on. I like his policies but I think he killed us in Georgia twice,’” the senator said, citing perceptions that Trump hurt Republicans’ ability to win runoff Senate races in Georgia in 2020 and 2022.
A recent USA Today-Suffolk University poll of 1,000 registered voters across the country found that 61 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they like Trump’s policies but want to have a different presidential nominee in 2024.
The survey found that those voters favor Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as a potential nominee over Trump by a margin of 56 percent to 33 percent. It was conducted from Dec. 7-11.
A CNN poll of 1,208 adults nationwide conducted from Dec. 1-7 showed similar results.
That poll found that only 38 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said the party should nominate Trump for the presidency, down 12 percentage points from the 50 percent who said so in a survey conducted in January and early February.
Sixty-two percent of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents in the CNN survey, which was conducted by SSRS, an independent research company, said the party should nominate a different candidate.
Thirty-eight percent of Republican voters who said they wanted someone other than Trump atop the ticket named DeSantis as their favorite.
Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill say DeSantis’s surge in popularity among Republican voters is being driven by the recent success of GOP candidates in Florida, which was considered a swing state not long ago but has now turned sharply in favor of Republicans.
DeSantis trounced Democrat Charlie Crist in the gubernatorial race 59 percent to 40 percent, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) cruised easily to reelection in the state, beating Democratic Rep. Val Demings 57.7 percent to 41.3 percent.
Republican candidates also won statewide races in Florida for attorney general, agriculture commissioner and chief financial officer by large margins.
Lummis said she sees DeSantis as the new leader of the Republican Party.
“I do think that,” she said. “What Republicans have accomplished in Florida is truly phenomenal.“
She said DeSantis has “been extremely able to articulate” his accomplishments in Florida and “shown an extraordinary ability with the Florida legislature to accomplish policy goals.”
“He just has a very good sense of how to make it about the team,” she added. “That’s pretty key.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said he’s staying out of the 2024 presidential primary but noted that many Republicans are ready to move on from Trump.
“You got to elect the Republican who’s best suited to your values but who can also win. That’s certainly the story of the midterms,” he said, referring to the perception among many Republicans that Trump and his brash brand of politics hurt the party in November.
He said the recent polling results showing the shift in Republican voters away from Trump isn’t surprising.
“This trend is not new,” he added. “The rest of us have been seeing it for a very long time. None of it surprises me.”
Crenshaw said “hearing from voters, hearing from donors, hearing from activists, they all kind of say the same thing.”
“None of us really have anything bad to say about Trump but — I don’t think this is rocket science — people think there’s an electability problem,” he added.
Chris Sununu, the Republican governor of New Hampshire, an early presidential primary state, told CNN in an interview aired Friday that “we’re moving on” from Trump.
“There’s an argument to be made that someone like DeSantis could beat him in a primary today,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), after largely avoiding attacking Trump over the past year, has come out swinging in recent weeks. He has told reporters Trump hurt the party in two ways.
He said on Tuesday that Trump made it tougher to weed out weak candidates in Senate Republican primaries by making endorsements that diminished the ability of party leaders in Washington to determine who would emerge as the nominee.
And McConnell also implied after Election Day that Trump’s prominence in the national spotlight and his repeated claims that the 2020 election was stolen — something that became a litmus test in Republican primaries — turned off independent and moderate voters.
“Here’s the problem: We underperformed among voters who did not like President Biden’s performance, among independents and among moderate Republicans, who looked at us and concluded [there was] too much chaos, too much negativity, and we turned off a lot of these centrist voters,” he said.
He said this was “fatal” in Pennsylvania, where he said Republican candidate Mehmet Oz’s attempt to a run as a moderate “got muddled” in the final weeks of the race.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s most loyal Senate allies, acknowledged that Trump is “leaking oil” because of the political hits he’s taken in recent weeks.
“It’s snapshot in time,” he said of this polls. “I think it’s fair to say President Trump has been leaking oil a bit.”
He noted that Trump is still popular in South Carolina and is “still in a pretty commanding position.”
“People do like his policies. He still has very high approval rating” among Republican voters, Graham said, but “what people are concerned about is, ‘can he win?’”
Graham argued that Republican voters who say they support Trump’s policies but don’t want him to the be the party’s nominee are stumbling into a fallacy.
“What he has to do fairly soon is convince people that not only did his policy work before but they’ll work again and he’s the best guy to advocate them,” he said.
“It’s easy to say ‘I like Trump’s policies but a lot of the people talking about running, I wonder if they could do what he did?’” he added. “Trump’s policies and personality are pretty hard to disconnect. He got other countries to do things because they were afraid of him.”