NEW YORK (AP) — It has been accused twice. Found responsible for sexual abuse. And he is viewed unfavorably for about a third of his party. But six months before Republicans begin choosing their next presidential nominee, former president Donald Trump remains the dominant favorite in the race.
Front-runners don’t always win their party’s nomination, but the growing sense of Trump’s inevitability is raising alarm bells among some Republicans desperate for the party to move on. Some described a sense of panic, or “DEFCON 1,” as one put it, as they try to derail Trump and change the trajectory of the race. But there is no clear plan or strategy for how to do it, and Trump’s detractors are. I have yet to rally around a single alternative candidate.
“They are very concerned,” said the former Maryland governor. Larry Hogan he said of fellow Republican leaders who share his view that renominating Trump would be a disaster for the party next November. Hogan, who opted out of his own campaign for fear that an unwieldy Republican field would only benefit Trump, described a moment when he realized, “Oh, my God, we could really have Trump as our running mate.” .
“People expected us to have made more progress than we have at this point,” he said, as polls find that Trump routinely leads his nearest challenger by 20 to 30 points or more.
Of course, the six months remaining until Iowa Caucus it can be an eternity in politics, where races can turn in a matter of weeks or days. And Trump faces glaring vulnerabilities, including state and federal investigations into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the possibility that he could end up in the unprecedented position of being tried while simultaneously campaigning.
But even critics acknowledge the external events that many counted on to affect Trump’s standing, namely his criminal indictments in New York i Florida – I didn’t hurt him. Indeed, the charges caused some voters who entertained an alternative to return to the Trump camp.
“The impeachments have helped Donald Trump with Republican primary voters,” said Art Pope, a North Carolina GOP donor who supports former Vice President Mike Pence but believes the charges, particularly in New York , they had no foundation.
Meanwhile, anti-Trump Republicans have yet to unite around an alternative, com Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has struggled to build momentum, leaving many still waiting to see if another viable alternative could emerge from the pack. Senator from South Carolina Tim Scott has attracted more and more attention.
Several groups opposed to Trump’s candidacy have begun spending heavily on efforts to weaken his support, though they have yet to rally around another candidate. Win It Back PAC, a new independent super PAC with ties to the conservative Club For Growth Action, spent $3.6 million this month in a new announcement which features an alleged Trump supporter who has grown tired of the former president’s antics.
“I love Donald Trump, I love what he did,” he begins. But “he has so many distractions … and I’m not sure he can focus on moving the country forward.”
The conservative Americans for Prosperity Action, which is part of the network founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has also tried to undermine Trump through door knocks and phone calls. The group says it has found in conversations with voters that Trump’s support is softer than most assume, and that even some who identify as Trump supporters are worried about his election in a general election and they are open to an alternative.
His mailers to voters in early states have focused on that message, including one featuring photos of Trump and the president Joe Biden and asks recipients, “Is it worth the risk?”
While officials at the group acknowledge they face pressure to rally around a candidate other than Trump, they say they are now focused on laying “the groundwork” for an alternative to Trump to emerge.
“That’s where most of the people we’re talking to are, too,” said Drew Klein, the group’s state director. “They’re not necessarily locked in on a candidate, but they know we have to move forward.”
Not everyone, however, agrees with the anti-Trump strategy. Former GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who has conducted focus groups in Iowa, warned that such messages “make Trump more likely to win because it makes him a victim.”
He said he has found Republican voters are open to an alternative and that the first GOP debate, scheduled for Aug. 23, will be critical.
“The moon and the stars will have to align for Trump to be defeated,” he said. “And the candidate who supports Trump’s agenda but opposes the lack of success will.”
Political trajectories can change in an instant, especially after voting begins. During the 2008 campaign, eventual GOP nominee Arizona Sen. John McCaindidn’t emerge as the race favorite until January 2008. And then-Sen. Hillary Clinton she appeared to have a decisive lead for the Democratic nomination until she was overtaken by it barack obama.
But no former president has run after losing re-election in the modern era. And Trump maintains a fervent grip on one part of the party. In fact, it was eight years ago this month that the then-reality star and political newcomer began to surge in the polls, edging out rival Jeb Bush for first place, a position he would hold until winning the nomination .
Ralph Reed, a longtime Republican strategist who is the chairman of the evangelical Faith and Freedom Coalition, said Trump remains in the “strongest position” of any candidate but still believes the race “will be competitive and hard fought”.
“No one should take any state for granted, no one should take this primary for granted because anything can happen and it often does,” he said. “Almost every leader has a near-death experience.”
Critics and rival campaigns point to what they perceive as a growing list of Trump campaign missteps, especially in Iowa, where he has criticized the state’s popular governor, Kim Reynolds, for her seemingly cozy relationship with DeSantis despite pretending to be neutral. He has also skipped a couple of GOP meetings that drew most of his main rivals.
After his rivals swept through Iowa at the Family Leadership Summit on Friday, Trump had the stage mostly to himself Saturday at the annual Turning Point Action conference, a gathering of thousands of young conservatives in Florida.
While DeSantis has been in a relationship for years with organizer Charlie Kirk and had been appeared at last year’s event alongside Trump and received a warm welcome from the crowdDeSantis declined the group’s invitation, citing a scheduling conflict.
“You only have a few opportunities in the grand scheme of an election cycle to get in front of the major groups and all the media and to pass up that opportunity to lay out your vision for America, I think that’s one of the mistakes bigger”. said Tyler Bowyer, director of operations for Turning Point Action.
Trump, speaking to the group, called DeSantis’ campaign a “hopeless cause” and said the millions he’s raised and spent “should be used to support the party he won against Crooked Joe Biden in November 2024.”