Former President Trump met a muted response from many Republicans when he launched his 2024 White House bid at Mar-A-Lago this month.
But his campaign is stirring excitement, and even some glee, from Democrats.
Members of President Biden’s party are openly pining for Trump to become the 2024 Republican nominee, believing he is just too flawed to win a general election.
They argue that the situation today is markedly different from 2016, not least because voters now know what they get with Trump in office. And Democrats are eager to have such a beatable opponent in an election that is likely to be challenging for their party.
“I am hoping for Trump’s nomination, ‘cause I think he’s the easiest candidate to beat,” former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) told “The Briefing with Steve Scully” on SiriusXM this week.
Dean, a presidential candidate in 2004 and subsequently the head of the Democratic National Committee, noted that he had warned his party in 2016 that Trump could win the presidency.
Now, he insisted: “People are sick of this. They’re tired of the inflammatory stuff, they’re tired of the divisiveness, they’re tired of the lies. If Trump gets the nomination, I think we have got a pretty good chance of turning over some more states than we did the last time.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told The New York Times recently that even though he thought a Trump candidacy would be “an absolute horror show” for the health of American democracy, it would be “probably a good thing” for those who want Republicans to lose in 2024.
Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh told this column that Trump is “infinitely weaker than he was.”
“You can always get burned by making some of these predictions, but I just think he seems a little bit of a spent force,” Longabaugh said. “There are a whole bunch of dynamics that are very different from 2016.”
Even some on the right believe the Democrats have a point.
An editorial from The Wall Street Journal the day before Trump’s campaign launch savaged his chances in 2024, lamenting that after the 2020 election, “the country showed it wants to move on but Mr. Trump refuses — perhaps because he can’t admit to himself that he was a loser.”
The Journal’s editorial asserted that if Trump did press ahead with his campaign, “Republican voters will have to decide if they want to nominate the man most likely to produce a GOP loss and total power for the progressive left.”
Democrats and Trump-skeptical Republicans believe that the GOP has other candidates who could either be more persuasive to center-ground voters in a general election — or at least bring less baggage into the race than Trump.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is just as confrontational as Trump but not dogged by the same degree of indiscipline, nor by legal troubles — and he just won reelection in his usually competitive state by 19 points.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) was elected in a Democratic-leaning state in 2021, just a year after Biden had carried it by 10 points over Trump.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants and the leading female contender for the GOP in 2024, would offer a much more inclusive face of the party.
Of course, Democrats — and pundits — have underestimated Trump before, most notably in 2016.
His candidacy was treated as a self-promotional gambit or a joke in many places. The Huffington Post at one point ostentatiously announced it would move coverage of his bid to the “Entertainment” section of its website. Various Democrats pronounced that Trump had no chance of winning.
Everyone knows how that turned out.
Now, however, the argument that Trump is the weakest link has several new threads.
Firstly, even though the former president retains the fervent support of his base, he is unpopular with the public at large.
An Economist-YouGov poll conducted from Nov. 13-15 found that Trump was viewed favorably by 77 percent of Republican voters but by only 41 percent of the overall population. Fifty-two percent of all adults had an unfavorable view of him — notably higher than the other potential GOP contenders the poll tested.
Secondly, the defeat of high-profile Trump-backed candidates in the midterms has strengthened the argument of those who believe the former president is an electoral liability.
Senate and gubernatorial candidates endorsed by Trump, including Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters and Kari Lake in Arizona and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire all lost. The fate of another prominent endorsee, former football star Herschel Walker, will be decided in Georgia’s December 6 Senate runoff.
Then there is Trump’s relationship to the festering legacy of Jan. 6, 2021, the darkest day in recent American history. Even the Journal’s reliably conservative editorial page acknowledged that “the deadly riot will forever stain his legacy.”
The Capitol insurrection is just one of the factors contributing to Trump’s sea of legal woes.
Attorney General Merrick Garland recently appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to take over the investigation into events surrounding Jan. 6, as well as the separate probe into sensitive documents found at Mar-a-Lago.
Either of those investigations could result in a criminal indictment for Trump.
A probe in Georgia looking into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 result in that state could also be damaging. Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) is moving forward with a massive civil suit targeting the Trump Organization.
Put it all together — and add in those voters who have simply grown weary of Trump-fueled chaos — and it’s easy to see why Democrats and some Republicans find it hard to see a path for the former president to win the White House back.
“I think we would all like Donald Trump to run again,” former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) recently told Gray Television.
“Trump has significant negatives that makes it very difficult for him to win a majority of the vote,” Republican pollster Glen Bolger told this column.
For all that, however, Trump remains the leading candidate in polls of the potential GOP 2024 field.
It looks like the Democrats might get their wish — and then they will find out if they should, again, have been careful what they wished for.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.