I’m having a little fun with that headline.
It’s accurate in stating the results of this Harvard/Harris poll but the implication that Trump is a stronger general election candidate than DeSantis is not. Either one would defeat her in the general election but DeSantis would run her off the field since the “Anyone But Trump” bloc among indies and Republicans who put Biden over the top in 2020 wouldn’t show up again if DeSantis is the nominee. The reason he’s trailing Harris here is due to nothing more profound than name recognition. Ask the average American voter if they know who Trump is and they’ll say, “You mean the former president and most famous person in the world?” Ask them if they know who Harris is and they’ll say, “She’s the vice president … I think? That’s Harris, right?”
Ask them who DeSantis is and unless they consume conservative media daily they’ll be shaky. Casual Democratic voters will give you a blank stare.
Let there be no confusion, though: DeSantis is a vastly better general election candidate than Trump.
A Harvard/Harris Poll shows Harris the choice of 41% of respondents, with DeSantis at 38% and 20% undecided.
This result is similar to other competitive matchups between DeSantis and Harris tested by the same pollster.
Harris commanded the support of 42% of those polled, with DeSantis the choice of 38% of respondents in the April survey. A February poll showed Harris the choice of 41% of those surveyed, with DeSantis at 39%. A January Harvard/Harris Poll showed DeSantis 1 point ahead, 40% to 39%.
In the current survey, DeSantis underperformed former President Donald Trump, the choice of 47% against Harris in a hypothetical 2024 faceoff, 7 points above the Vice President.
That Harris/Trump result is somehow a testament to the respective weakness of both. Imagine getting blown out by a guy who was impeached twice and has never won the popular vote. And imagine not doing better than 47 percent against a VP as unpopular and inept as Harris.
The same poll, by the way, has Trump leading DeSantis in a primary, 41/12, although last month’s Harvard/Harris poll had him at 58 percent. If I were Trump, I’d be unhappy with that trendline in the wake of the Georgia double whammy from Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger. If he starts polling reliably below 50 percent in primary surveys, Team DeSantis will treat it as an engraved invitation to challenge him. Speaking of which, for the second year in a row, a straw poll at the Western Conservative Summit found more attendees willing to say they’d be happy with DeSantis as GOP nominee (71 percent) than were willing to say so of Trump (68 percent).
Which isn’t a bad result for Trump in the abstract. After all the insanity of “stop the steal” and the insurrection and primarying every Republican who’s ever crossed him, nearly as many conservative activists would *still* be okay with him as nominee as with a guy who’s 30 years younger and keeps piling up win after win for them in Florida’s culture war. DeSantis must be wondering what he has to do to get a leg up on someone whose every utterance these days boils down to “something something rigged election.”
A few months ago Yuval Levin predicted that Trump’s insistence on meddling in Republican primaries would backfire on him by making enemies of Republicans who previously had no axe to grind. He’s going to turn the Trump party into a Trump faction of the Republican Party, Levin guessed. Reading this NBC story about hard feelings left in the wake of his endorsements makes me wonder if that process has begun. DeSantis can’t win a primary against Trump if Trump is leading the Trump party but he can win a primary against Trump if Trump is leading a Trump faction.
“Trump fatigue is all over the place. It’s among committee people and especially elected officials,” said a GOP party official who has been involved in multiple campaigns who asked not to be named out of fear of Trump’s reprisal.
Part of the frustration is that there is no single path to Trump’s blessing. Candidates attempt to go through a process of obtaining the coveted endorsement only to risk getting outflanked — “Corey Lewandowski parachutes in with someone and Trump endorses on a whim,” said the official, referring to Trump’s former campaign manager who remains an informal adviser to the former president.
The person said there had been some prospective candidates who declined to run at all, saying, “‘I’m not going to spend a year campaigning, raising money only for the last week of the campaign him to decide he doesn’t like my golf swing and endorses my opponent.’”
One former chair of the Wisconsin GOP told NBC that it’s not any one thing that’s driving discontent with Trump. “Some folks think he can’t win. Some folks are upset about January 6, and some folks are upset that we’re still talking about 2020,” he said. Left unsaid but surely on the minds of many Republicans is the fact that his endorsements and grudges in some cases have reduced the party’s chances of winning this fall. Doug Ducey would have been a solid favorite in Arizona’s Senate race in this national environment but he didn’t want to have to put up with Trump’s 2020 vendetta in a primary so he didn’t run, improving Democrats’ chances of holding the seat. The most electable candidate in the Pennsylvania Senate primary was Dave McCormick but Trump went with the TV celebrity, Mehmet Oz. And the one candidate whom Republicans didn’t want Trump to endorse in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race was Doug Mastriano, particularly when there were Trumpy alternatives like Lou Barletta on the ballot. Trump endorsed Mastriano anyway. If Mastriano ends up being as much of a liability for the party as people expect, and early signs point to yes, he might not just lose his own race but depress turnout enough to cost Oz his election too.
Trump will have a hard time explaining that outcome. Few state or national party officials will have the stones to call him out publicly for it, but that’s the way some momentum for DeSantis 2024 will build behind the scenes. Eventually people get tired of losing elections they have every reason to believe they should win.