Trump’s Stranglehold on Republican Voters

The base is remaining loyal to the only candidate they think can beat Biden.

Taegan Goddard points me to two related polls.

WSJ (“Trump Is Top Choice for Nearly 60% of GOP Voters, WSJ Poll Shows,” September 2)

Donald Trump has expanded his dominating lead for the Republican presidential nomination, a new Wall Street Journal poll shows, as GOP primary voters overwhelmingly see his four criminal prosecutions as lacking merit and about half say the indictments fuel their support for him.

The new survey finds that what was once a two-man race for the nomination has collapsed into a lopsided contest in which Trump, for now, has no formidable challenger. The former president is the top choice of 59% of GOP primary voters, up 11 percentage points since April, when the Journal tested a slightly different field of potential and declared candidates.

Trump’s lead over his top rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has nearly doubled since April to 46 percentage points. At 13% support, DeSantis is barely ahead of the rest of the field, none of whom has broken out of single-digit support.

Morning Consult (“GOP Primary Electorate Sees Trump as More Electable After Georgia Arrest, First Republican Debate,” August 29)

According to our Aug. 24-27 survey, 62% of potential primary voters said they think Trump has the best chance of beating the Democratic incumbent. That is up 9 percentage points over the previous week, and matches a high in Morning Consult’s tracking of the question since April. 

Their belief tracks with the Republican front-runner’s continued standing against Biden in a head-to-head test among the overall electorate. Despite his escalating legal troubles, which he’s embraced with his campaign’s monetization of his mug shot, our daily tracking shows that Trump continues to poll neck-and-neck against Biden while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis trails the incumbent. 

On that note, just 13% of voters who indicated they plan to vote in a Republican primary or caucus in their state said DeSantis is most electable against Biden — matching a tracking low — while the share who said the same of entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy fell from 10% to 6% following his high-profile appearance in the debate.

The accompanying graphic shows the persistence of this belief:

Also interesting:

Ramaswamy, who remains the No. 3 contender for the Republican presidential nomination with 10% support, saw a boost in awareness among the GOP’s electorate following the first televised matchup, during which lower-polling rivals each lobbed fiery attacks on his credentials.

While Ramaswamy continues to be the third-most popular candidate among potential GOP primary voters, the share with negative views increased following his debate appearance as more voters became aware of him.

That would be more heartening if not for this:

Roughly 1 in 5 potential Republican primary voters have unfavorable views of Ramaswamy, up from 12% before the first debate. This trend isn’t exclusive to Ramaswamy: Both former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — two candidates with low name recognition —  saw their unfavorability increase post-debate. 

By contrast, more established candidates like DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence didn’t see a shift in their favorability ratings after appearing in the debate. 

All of this gets at a point that my co-blogger Steven Taylor has been seeking to make the in his Sunday discussion questions the last two weekends.

[V]oters want their team to win, because they have decided, for any number of reasons (some rational, some emotional, some identity-driven, and so forth) that their team winning is better for them than some other team winning.

This is especially true when there are only two teams of consequence that are competing. When there are only two teams, compromise becomes difficult, if not impossible, and changing teams means behaving traitorously. It is also vital to understand that if you only have two teams, then those teams are coalitions, not monoliths.

The deeper the polarization, the more each side will rationalize its own virtues as well as the vices of the other side. And also the more that some members of the coalition will be willing to tolerate, ignore, or even wish away, repugnant elements of other members of the team.


[T]he pesky truth is, the calculation for Rs is: who is more likely to beat Biden? And the answer at the moment is Trump. That was the point of my question last week. Moreover, the motivation for most people who identify as R’s is to rationalize away Trump’s downside. It is just how this works, especially when there is no viable alternative that also results in their side winning

There are, of course, quite a number of us who left the Republican coalition—and a smaller number of us who went a step further and actually voted for the other side—because we saw Trump as a threat to the Republic. But, frankly, most who fell into that camp were professionals who had become increasingly poor fits with the Republican coalition for years.

Religious conservatives who saw abortion and “traditional values” as their core political identity really had no viable alternative once Trump was the nominee. Voting for Hillary Clinton or even Joe Biden was simply unthinkable. And, while Trump personally is the antithesis of said values, he has been effective in publicly espousing the frustrations his base feels over losing the public and legal fights over these issues. And, of course, after four decades of Republican politicians using abortion as a rallying cry but achieving no results, Trump delivered.

I strongly suspect that there’s a very large chunk of Republican voters who would dearly love to find a replacement candidate. But DeSantis has proven not to be that guy. The Ramaswamy boomlet, thankfully, seems to be over. And everyone else is seen as having next to no shot at regaining the White House for the party.

Oh: while polling this far out is next to meaningless, Trump has a slide lead over Biden in the above-linked WSJ poll. And here are the lastest polls aggregated by the folks at FiveThirtyEight:

Bizarre though it may seem, Trump is extremely competitive—and DeSantis less so.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just nutha says:

    Should I assume that the Trump mug shot is going to be the favored representation here from now on?

  2. Thomm says:

    I strongly suspect that there’s a very large chunk of Republican voters who would dearly love to find a replacement candidate.

    Oh, sweet summer child. The base has marinated in right wing propaganda radio and TV broadcast for over 30 years and Trump and his grievance + revenge tour is exactly what they have been primed for.

  3. de stijl says:

    The Trump mugshot reminds me of the Skeet Ulrich poster above Sadam and Satan’s bed in one of the South Park movies. It’s the facial pose. Iirc, Bigger, Longer, Uncut. (Ulrich was one of the stabby boys in Scream 1. The unfunny one.)

    Sadam is totally gaslighting Satan. “C’mon, guy!”

    Trump’s mugshot looks like a SNL parody skit.

  4. Lounsbury says:

    And this reflects on the other side of the political divide the great danger of marinating in echo chambres and closed discourse, the tendency to generate myopic misjudgement. Of course it’s great business (in a very short-term quarter to quarter sense) for the political media sphere as Fox and that OAN thing, but quite bad for achieving real political aims. While I tend here to pick on the activist Left living in a distorted echo chambre it is quite clear the same and in fact moderately worse is true on other side (of course seen in the JKB although never quite sure if that is sincere or an act [i.e. actual trolling not mere disagreeable idiocy]).

    The idea that Trump is their best chance of course is delusional and driven by living in the echo chamber – as is the completely distorted view of Biden and misunderstanding and underestimating one’s opponent is a grave error (Biden having already shown he is a very clever operator in reality and frankly by any objective analysis against the environment he is working in, rather effective, despite the bizarre delusions of the extreme rignt as well as his own Lefty cultural wing on the Left fringe).

  5. steve j nichols says:

    I think some of what they think has been developed before the Civil War.

  6. DK says:

    @Lounsbury: Now if we could only get a handle of the bizarre delusions of the psuedo-moderate echo chamber that keeps insisting — without data or evidence — that the left isn’t on board with Biden. Progressive generally acknowledge has had the most effectively liberal presidency in several decades.

    I’m looking for the lefty influencers ignoring Trump’s age and unhealthiness to harp on Biden’s age, and all I keep finding are corporate media pundits and centrists like James Bennet and Mike Murphy.

  7. CSK says:

    Every time I see the mugshot I snicker. Trump looks like a bad parody of a tough guy. He’d have been much better off expressionless or wearing a slight smile.

    Aristocratic nonchalance beats surly rage anytime. It’s a lesson Trump’s never learned.

  8. ptfe says:

    @DK: Yeah, social progressives have been pretty quiet during his presidency because…it’s been pretty good on that front.

    He doesn’t seem to have ceded ground unnecessarily, he’s pushed for some policies that were high on the progressive bucket list (sometimes to his detriment even). He’s still a “corporate Dem” in some ways, but to most lefties, he’s been a pleasant surprise. He’s used his tools to move forward important issues but hasn’t gone silently on everything else. The guy is the consummate pragmatic leftist pol: believe in your core that Things Should Be Like This, but understand that Right Now Things Can Only Be Like That.

    I like to think at this point MR is punching left because there’s such a steep drop-off from any sort of moderate left to the childish right – even the smallest swing right might hit toddlers.

  9. gVOR10 says:

    I worried, sometimes publicly, here, that DeSantis was a bigger threat than Trump. I thought he could retain GOP votes but, without Trump’s baggage, appeal more broadly. It’s been a pleasant surprise to watch DeUseless self destruct.

    I see the Trump phenomenon, viewed from 30,000 feet, as pretty simple. The GOPs have always struggled, having to dog whistle their appeal to base prejudices for fear of repelling the soccer moms. Trump came in from nowhere, running a low bucks vanity campaign to boost his brand. There were reports he’d be happy if he got to 10% in the primaries. Since he wasn’t in it to win it, a) he didn’t have to tailor his views to please the Kochs, Adelsons, etc. donors, and b) he didn’t have to dogwhistle. Whatever lines got applause at a rally became his policy. Plus he could give lip service to Social Security and promise better healthcare. When he gained traction and lots of small dollar donors he screwed up and stayed in the race. Eventually getting Koch, Adelson, etc. backing and winning because of the EC and our silly habit of changing parties in the White House every eight years. But he made himself the nail that stood out, and now he’s getting hammered. And you know what, the GOPs were right. Without dogwhistles he does great with the GOP rubes, but does repel the soccer moms ~= educated suburban women.

    He will do great against the seven or twenty dwarfs in the primaries and he can only win the general if Biden suffers some heath issue or other crisis. Which would also work for any generic GOP.

  10. DK says:

    @ptfe: As John Maynard Keynes quipped in response to critics of the ever-evolving nature of his economic theories: when the facts change, we should change our opinions.

    But I know from personal failings that one’s pre-configured biases are stubborn and difficult to giveup, and that our oversimplistic preferred narratives only rarely yield to complex realities. Doubly so when we reach a certain age.

  11. CSK says:

    According to Hugo Lowell of The Guardian, speaking on MSNBC this morning, Trump was apparently too goddam lazy to lever his capacious ass out of bed to attend his 9:30 a.m. arraigment in Atlanta.

  12. Gustopher says:

    @Lounsbury: Contra intello bobos, the median voter when partaking of franchise selects for traits otherwise contrary to their positions both financial and non-financial, opting for heuristics vulgarly nomenclatured as vibes. Reified through Reiki, seasoned by spite, and annoyed by anodyne antecedents, quantity is oft-times preferred to quality. And in quantity, the bitter tangerine has a surplus of vibes both sacred and profane. Valor!

    Chambres of acoustic resonance and bubbles of babble palisade the perimeter, whilst the interior is bathed in a nougat of id providing sustenance for the spleen, a tale as old as Baudelaire and the Nine Inch Nails.

  13. CSK says:



  14. EddieInCA says:


    Then the polls are wrong and progressive groups AREN’T hoping Biden steps aside and he’s not losing support from non-white working class voters.


    Progressive group to press Biden not to run in 2024

    Biden loses ground with working-class Black, Latino voters

  15. DK says:

    @EddieInCA: You mean wrong like they were in 2022, according to your own Axios link:

    Reality check: Democrats held many of these same vulnerabilities heading into the 2022 midterms yet overperformed expectations last year.

    One of the party’s biggest concerns in 2022 was a feared further slippage of support among Hispanics. Yet Democrats managed to win 62% of the Hispanic vote, according to a Catalist analysis, the same share of the vote Biden received in 2020.

    And, this, also from your own Axios link about the voters Biden is supposedly losing ground with:

    Many of these voters are moderates, not progressives — especially when it comes to the polarizing cultural issues that Republicans are increasingly focused on.

    So can we make up our minds? Which oversimplistic stereotypes are we going to land on, to distract from the reality that Trumpism and anti-Bidenism are the fault of whites and conservatives, not blacks and progressives? Are people of color working class moderates who are turned off by affluent woke progressives or not? Is Biden slipping with people of color or not? If so, then moderates are the ones resisting Biden then, yes? No?

    If the people here who wrongly insisted LatinX language was a super important issue that would fuel Red Wave 2022 want to keep embarassing themselves by sticking to lazy, oversimplistic narratives, then they should just pick one.

    Top progressives are backing Joe Biden’s 2024 campaign. But some activists have reservations

    Bernie Sanders: Progressives must unite behind Biden against Trump threat

    Liberals raise alarms, calling on Biden to sharpen reelection pitch
    Subtitle: Left-leaning Democrats have backed the president, but some worry his second-term agenda lacks ambition.

    Reality is complex, but it seems many Boomers have a tough time with complex thought and need to spoonfed slogans and simple stories. Which will surprise no one.

  16. DK says:

    @Gustopher: We’ve got a real satirist in the house lol

  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK: You’re never going to get white people (particularly white silents, boomers, and Gen Xers) to admit that they are the problem. They are only the solution–and frequently the only solution as well. But keep plugging away. It’s important for the lurkers to hear alternatives to the conventional “wisdom.”