Donald Trump emerged from the 2022 midterm election with egg on his face.
Although most former US presidents try to stay above intra-party squabbles, the former president had unprecedented involvement in the midterm primaries, which ultimately led to the ascendance of “outsider” Trump-like candidates in several key congressional swing states and losses in toss-up gubernatorial elections.
The Trump-hug of these candidates – Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters and Kari Lake in Arizona and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, among others – turned out to be a stranglehold on the GOP.
US presidents generally see their political party lose an average of 28 seats in the House of Representatives and four seats in the Senate, but President Joe Biden and the Democrats defied the odds in retaining control of the Senate and might even face the historical possibility of gaining a seat in the Senate pending the December 6 run-off election in Georgia.
And although the House is still expected to fall under GOP control, the narrow Republican margin is likely to stifle their agenda and further fuel already acrimonious intra-party fighting.
Yet, in a move that surprised no one and demonstrates just how resilient the former president is to setbacks, Trump announced his intention to run for the US presidency for the third time. And history suggests we should expect that he can win.
Trump is still a winner where it matters.
Ron DeSantis remains untested at the federal level and has used pages from the Trump playbook to succeed.
Still making sense of how poorly the Republicans fared in the midterms, the GOP appears to be doing some soul-searching not dissimilar to that conducted after the party’s 2012 presidential election loss to Barack Obama – under whose leadership can it win over the emerging key demographics in the federal elections: independent voters, voters of colour, younger voters?
But ultimately, no amount of introspection or intervention from Republican leaders can stop Trump from becoming the party’s 2024 presidential nominee. The only serious group with the power to prevent his nomination are Republican primary voters. And among this group, Trump remains a winner.
In polling conducted by the United States Studies Centre before the midterm elections in 2022, 77 per cent of 2020 Trump voters said a second presidential term for him would be good for America; 54 per cent said it would be “very good” for the country. For context, only 62 per cent of Biden voters said it would be a positive thing for him to be re-elected, and only 26 per cent said it would be “very good”.
Early in the process, primary voters in places such as Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada largely determine the field of candidates running. Here, Trump as a presidential candidate, maintains broad appeal.
In Iowa, 83 per cent of Republicans hold a favourable view of the former president. In New Hampshire, 50 per cent of Republican voters would back him in a presidential primary, with Florida governor Ron DeSantis a distant second among GOP voters at 29 per cent. In Nevada, 41 per cent of Republican voters would select Trump compared with 34 per cent who would choose DeSantis.
And although both Nevada and New Hampshire went for the Democratic candidates in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections and were considered to reject Trump-like candidates in the 2022 midterms, Republicans ultimately delivered these two states to Trump in the 2016 primaries and to Trump-type candidates in the 2022 midterm primaries.
Donald Trump maintains his appeal with Republican voters in a capacity that no aspiring Republican candidate has yet proved they can beat. In the primary races before the November midterms, Republicans fought for Trump endorsements knowing just how potent and, on the whole, helpful these could be to their nominations as candidates for the midterms.
In fact, 93 per cent of the candidates Trump endorsed went on to win their primaries.
Sure, Trump’s endorsements in competitive races against the Democrats had the Republican candidates he backed fall short of expectations last week. But in safer Republican districts, Trump-backed and Trump-aligned candidates performed about as well as anticipated, with only 5 of the 171 election-denying candidates running in GOP-favoured seats losing their seats to the Democrats.
Even with DeSantis possibly rising up as “DeFuture”, the Florida governor remains untested at the federal level and has used pages from the Trump playbook to succeed.
The year 2024 is a long way away. And the primary election process is complex and unwieldy. The pathways Obama, Biden and Trump took to become their parties’ presidential nominees make this abundantly clear. Yet, until another candidate announces a run for presidential nominee for the Republican Party before 2024, Trump is the presumptive presidential candidate for his party. And we shouldn’t underestimate his ability to win.