For many of Trump’s primary rivals, the case against nominating the former president was straightforward: He could not defeat President Biden in a general election, when more moderate and independent voters are needed to prevail in key battleground states.
But recent polling has dealt a blow to that argument.
Polls from The New York Times, CNN, CBS News and Emerson College have shown Trump leading Biden in a hypothetical 2024 matchup both in key swing states and at the national level.
“The electability argument is gone for others,” said one former Trump White House official.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), in particular, has framed much of her campaign around electability. Since launching her run in February, she has called for a new generation of leadership, argued Trump can’t win in a general election and repeatedly pointed to polls that show her beating Biden in a hypothetical 2024 matchup.
“It’s not just about the primary. Everybody’s talking about the primary now. It’s who can beat Joe Biden, and who can beat any Democrat that goes there,” Haley said Thursday on Fox Business Network. “And you can tell from the momentum that we have, but more than that, look at the polls, we crush Joe Biden in a general election.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has increasingly shaped his argument for the nomination on the concept that he has delivered victories and results in Florida, while other Trump and his preferred candidates have struggled at the ballot box.
“[Trump] said Republicans were gonna get tired of winning. Well, as we saw last night, I’m sick of Republicans losing,” DeSantis said at Wednesday night’s debate.
But a slew of recent polls have undercut the idea that Trump is incapable of taking on Biden, even after losing to him in 2020.
A New York Times/Siena College poll released Nov. 5 found Trump leading Biden in five out of six critical battleground states that will likely determine the outcome of the 2024 race: Nevada, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona. Biden led Trump in Wisconsin.
A CBS News national poll released Sunday found Trump leading Biden in a hypothetical match-up, 51 percent to 48 percent.
A CNN poll released Tuesday found Trump ahead of Biden 49-45 in a hypothetical rematch.
And an Emerson College poll found Trump leading in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with Biden leading in Michigan. The two were separated by just one percentage point in Wisconsin.
“Donald Trump is in the best polling position he’s ever been in his political career. And it’s kind of not close,” Justin Clark, who served as Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2020, said this week on the “Yes Labels” podcast.
Trump is dominating in national GOP primary polls, with an average lead of nearly 60 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics. His lead is smaller in state-level polls, but he is still ahead of DeSantis, Haley and other rivals by more than 20 percentage points in most cases.
Some Republicans have argued Haley or DeSantis would still be less risky candidates than Trump in a general election. The New York Times/Siena poll found Haley beating Biden by a wider margin than Trump in each of the swing states polled except for Georgia.
DeSantis fared better than Trump against Biden in Wisconsin in the New York Times/Siena poll, but the same or worse than Trump in each of the other swing states that were polled.
The Biden campaign has emphasized that the polls come one year before Election Day and argued Tuesday’s election results should not be considered predictive. As evidence, they pointed to the 2022 midterms, when Democrats performed better than expected, and Tuesday’s elections, in which Democrats won in Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Some Biden allies have also argued that he will perform better against Trump once it is clear the former president is the nominee. Trump will be subject then to greater day-to-day scrutiny, those allies suggested, and he will be under more intense attack over his abortion views, in particular.
There is also the reality that Trump is facing upcoming trials in New York, Georgia, Washington, D.C., and Florida for charges related to an alleged hush money scheme, efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of classified material, respectively.
The New York Times/Siena College poll found roughly 6 percent of voters across Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the states that are likely to decide the 2024 election — would switch from Trump to Biden if Trump is convicted and sentenced, a shift that could potentially flip the election for Biden.
“I think the baggage is clearly there,” said one Republican strategist who is not working on any of the presidential campaigns. “I think there are people that clearly feel uncomfortable with him as president. But they’re like, ‘the country was in a better spot when he was president.’”
“A disciplined candidate can say, ‘You may not like me, but you liked your country better under me,’” the strategist added.