US presidential election 2024: Is it time to acknowledge Trump as the Republican candidate?
The Republican process of choosing a nominee for president is well underway, with a second televised debate scheduled for Wednesday. However, former President Donald Trump currently is far ahead in polls, raising the question of whether it is time to just acknowledge that he will be the party’s nominee.
A core part of US elections is the selection of each political party’s nominee. The Republican and Democratic parties, as well as some smaller parties, hold elections to choose a candidate for many political positions, including president. The specific rules and procedures vary by party and state. For the presidential nominee, most states hold “primary” votes to choose the candidate, while a few hold a “caucus.”
If a party has a president in the White House who can run for a second term, then usually it is assumed that the president will be the party’s nominee. President Joe Biden technically faces two competitors, but he is highly likely to be the Democratic nominee.
The Republican Party is holding a primary contest to choose its nominee, following the usual pattern for the party that is out of power. However, one of the Republican candidates is a former president — a historically unusual situation.
At the start of 2023, Trump and DeSantis were much closer in the polls, but DeSantis has lost ground since then
Kerry Boyd Anderson
Currently, Trump is far ahead of his competitors. In national primary polls, Trump polls at 55.2 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight model. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is a distant second at 13.2 percent, followed by entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy at 7.4 percent, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley at 5 percent and all other candidates polling lower. At the start of 2023, Trump and DeSantis were much closer in the polls, but DeSantis has lost ground since then.
Another useful indicator is the number and type of endorsements that a candidate receives from other party leaders. FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker (which counts and weighs endorsements) shows Trump far ahead with 360 endorsement points compared to 43 for DeSantis and all other candidates at 16 or fewer.
Fundraising is another important indicator but is very difficult to accurately track. Candidates’ principal campaign committees are legally required to disclose fundraising numbers. Trump’s campaign reported that it had raised $17.7 million between April 1 and June 30, behind DeSantis’ $20.1 million. However, Trump and other candidates receive financial support from multiple other sources that are not reported in the same way, which makes it difficult to know which candidate is truly ahead in fundraising. Trump has significant fundraising abilities, but media reports suggest that he also is spending a lot, including in response to four legal indictments against him.
Trump’s huge lead in polls and endorsements, combined with his massive name recognition and fundraising apparatus, put him far ahead in the race for the Republican nomination. The reality is that he is very likely to be the Republican nominee.
It remains possible that Republicans who do not want Trump to run again for president might rally around one competitor
Kerry Boyd Anderson
Indeed, Trump is behaving as though he does not have serious competition — and he might be right. He skipped the first official debate among Republican candidates, opting to do an interview with right-wing media figure Tucker Carlson instead. He also plans to skip the second debate; instead, he plans to give a speech to auto workers in Detroit.
Nonetheless, Trump faces some potential risks on the road to nomination. His legal problems might drain some of his funds and distract him from campaigning. It is very unusual for a leading candidate to face serious indictments in the middle of a campaign. However, while some of Trump’s opponents might have hoped that his legal woes would undermine support for him, the Republican base is so far undeterred. Polls suggest that, while a slight majority of Americans support the indictments, a strong majority of Republicans do not. Conservative media tends to either downplay the legal accusations against Trump or portray them as part of an unjust conspiracy against him. Trump’s legal problems are more likely to be a challenge in a general election against Biden than in a primary election against other Republicans.
While Trump has a devoted base of supporters and high approval ratings among Republicans, he also has opponents within the party. He easily leads in terms of major endorsements, but he also faces some high-profile Republican critics. Trump’s recent comments on abortion have been more moderate than many religious conservatives support, which might chip away at his support among that cohort; but on the other hand they have previously supported him despite a lifestyle and comments that are far from a Christian ideal.
It remains possible that Republicans who do not want Trump to run again for president might rally around one competitor, such as DeSantis or Haley. However, they would have to do so soon in order to have time to build support, endorsements and fundraising for one candidate to match or beat Trump’s figures. A few months ago, DeSantis seemed the likely choice, but some Republicans who object to Trump also object to DeSantis and he has not performed well in national campaigning.
The Republican race for the presidential nomination is not over yet — but almost. If Republicans rally around one competitor to rival Trump and if other risks damage the support for Trump and increase concerns about his electability, then the race for the nomination might heat up. If that does not happen soon, Americans are very likely to face a Trump-Biden rematch.
- Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 18 years of experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica. X: @KBAresearch