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USA News

Many within the Republican Party view Trump as a likely candidate — including some rival supporters

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Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota is supporting his state’s long-shot governor, Doug Burgum, for president. But he thinks Donald Trump will be the nominee.

Robert Gleason, former chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, attended a fundraiser for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this month. Yet he, too, expects Trump to win the primary.

And Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a veteran party strategist and ally of House GOP leaders, says he thinks the former president will likely see his nomination blocked early next year .

“I just don’t see a path for anyone other than Donald Trump right now,” Cramer said.

With less than four months until the first race for the Republican nomination in Iowa, many Republican elected officials, such as Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), state and local Republican officials as well as party members more directly saying they expect Trump to lead the Republican Party. ticket next year. Even among those who oppose him, some say they are moving toward that conclusion.

Facing 91 criminal charges in four indictments, Trump has built a wide lead this year over an array of rivals who have yet to challenge his dominance within the party. He portrayed himself as the victim of a politically motivated legal battle, a narrative that resonated with GOP voters. Prosecutors involved in his cases said they were acting according to the law, not policy.

How Trump’s legal issues would factor into a general election is a variable that worries some Republicans. In some parts of the party, including some factions of the U.S. Senate and among some wealthy donors, enthusiasm for Trump is less palpable. And while many in the party have all but concluded that Trump will be their nominee, some see a smoother race and remain optimistic that one of his Republican rivals can catch up with him with a long election campaign ahead.

“I still hope that my fellow Republicans will want to support someone who demonstrates personal integrity, respects the rule of law, aims to unite rather than divide people, and actually knows how to do their job well “said the senator. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.). “Donald J. Trump’s main professional achievement is as a reality TV star and he lacks all the personal qualities that I, and I think every other Republican should want a presidential candidate. In addition, he is the one who has the least chance of winning the legislative elections.”

Such tensions within the party and Trump’s separation from the rest of the presidential pack will be on display this week. While his main rivals debate in California on Wednesday, Trump, who opted out of those events, will be in Michigan, a key general election battleground, where he plans to deliver a speech.

Optimism about Trump’s prospects extends to the highest levels of Republican Party leadership on Capitol Hill. McCarthy said in a Fox News interview that aired last weekend: “I think he will be the nominee. » In late June, McCarthy told CNBC that he did not know whether Trump would be the stronger candidate. Trump was angered by the remark and McCarthy backtracked. Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), a close McCarthy ally, said that “the president understands very well what the Republican electorate wants and it is clear in public opinion polls that Trump is the no one to beat. »

A Trump adviser said Trump and McCarthy had not spoken in the days following the speaker’s Fox News interview. The adviser and another campaign official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak more candidly about the race, suggested that the former president was not taking the primary for granted, but noted that he was preparing for a rematch with President Biden. The average of national polls over the past month shows a deadlock, with Trump and Biden tied at 46% among registered voters.

Gleason, who led the state party in Pennsylvania when Trump won the state in 2016 — becoming the first Republican to do so in 28 years — said the criminal charges against Trump convinced his wife, who was willing to leave Trump, support him again. He attended an event with DeSantis, who is far behind Trump in most polls. He said Florida’s governor told him he could overtake Trump in Iowa, but Gleason is skeptical.

“I’ve been in politics a long time and I’ve never seen anyone like this,” Gleason said of Trump’s hold on the party. “We have a plethora of really good candidates, but Donald Trump is, dammit, the man for all seasons.”

Iowa State Representative. Brent Siegrist, who supported DeSantis, said the state’s voters are “ready to look for someone else but no one is coming forward.”

“If you had to bet the house, you would bet on Trump,” Siegrist said. Trump could still be vulnerable if the field narrows, he said, “but right now you’re asking me: Do I think he wins Iowa?” I do. I don’t think it’s great, but I think it’s what’s likely to happen.

Nationally, Trump scores around 60% among Republican voters, but in Iowa and New Hampshire he hovers just below 50%, giving Republicans looking for an alternative a few glimmers of hope that he is beatable.

But Jason Roe, a Republican strategist in Michigan, said he’s “pretty disappointed” with the rest of the primary sector, and while he thinks there’s still a chance someone else could break out , he acknowledged that the “conventional wisdom” among Republicans is that Trump is likely to win.

“Given his strength in 2016, it’s hard not to look at the race contours and say he’s even better than he was eight years ago,” Roe said.

Trump’s opponents have attacked him on several fronts, without a single message appearing to resonate clearly with Republican voters. DeSantis said in a recent interview with ABC News that Trump is a different candidate than he was in 2015 and that his recent criticism of Florida’s six-week abortion ban was a “big mistake.” DeSantis also questioned Trump’s electability, telling CBS News that he was a “dealbreaker” for too many voters. Meanwhile, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called Trump the country’s “most hated politician” during the latest GOP debate. But some polls in recent months have shown that Trump is considered by Republicans to be the best candidate in the general election.

Outside groups and donors seeking to block Trump from securing the nomination have yet to coalesce around a single alternative candidate. Although he entered the race with high expectations, DeSantis has slipped in recent polls and is increasingly focused on Iowa.

Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said none of the other candidates running have shown they have a strategy to beat Trump. “He’s a technical holder. The big missing ingredient is a broad, sustained campaign to show why he was a bad choice,” Madden said.

Even Republicans who have expressed skepticism about Trump’s chances in the general election have stressed that it will be difficult to stop him from winning the nomination, because of his advantages, including his ability to attract media attention. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a longtime Republican political strategist, said Trump “has a way of sucking out all the oxygen.”

Still, Cornyn is not willing to concede that Trump will lead the Republican field. “I don’t think anything is inevitable in politics. That’s what makes it so interesting,” he said. “Anything can happen.”

Whit Ayres, a prominent Republican Party strategist, said that with all the charges and trials coming over the next few months, there was still too much uncertainty to call Trump the winner.

“There is still half of the party that is open to an alternative, they are open to looking at another candidate and there are many debates, caucuses and primaries. I just don’t know how you can make a definitive statement with so much uncertainty,” Ayres said.

Cole, who previously served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said it was possible another candidate could outperform expectations in Iowa or New Hampshire, but absent that, he said he expects Trump to lock in the nomination quickly.

“I think he’s the likely candidate, I wouldn’t say anything is inevitable. It’s politics. But if you look at the polls, look at his numbers, look at his strength, it’s hard to see…I don’t see the president being surprised on Super Tuesday, so I think we’ll find out pretty quickly,” Cole said. referring to the day next March when more than a dozen states voted.

Scott Clement and Paul Kane contributed to this report.


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