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The consolidation strategy against Trump remains a fantasy

Coming into the New York primary in mid-April 2016, Donald Trump was in a good position in the Republican presidential primary. In previous months, the former president had gathered more than 750 delegates, more than half the total he would need to clinch the nomination and more than 200 more than the second-place candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Then Trump won his home state of New York handily. He not only won a large number of delegates, but also accomplished something he had yet to achieve in any other state: he won a majority of the vote. From that point on, he kept doing it — after everyone else except Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich had given up.

How was Trump able to come out on top in delegate totals when he didn’t win a majority of votes in the state election? Partly because the Republican nomination schedule is designed to advantage the favorite, with many states awarding all or most of their delegates to the person who came first, even if it was only a 30-point victory. at 29 percent. And Trump took advantage of it.

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This context is important as we consider the 2024 race, which once again features Trump as the candidate. In particular, it’s worth remembering how Trump won in 2016 when evaluating claims like the one New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) made on Fox News this week.

“At the end of the day, whoever thinks that, oh, ‘Trump is just going to get away with it?’ “, Sununu said. “Look, if seven of these candidates have the discipline to step aside, Trump loses.”

It was “the candidates’ job,” he said, to clear the pack and “make it a head-to-head race.”

There are “huge opportunities for these candidates to say, ‘I’m going to be the alternative,'” he continued, “and to make sure that other candidates know that there is no place for you and the stakes are too high for the entire organization. Republican ticket.

You can immediately see a problem with this strategy, I suppose. Good luck to the candidate who decides to tell all the other candidates that they you must leave. If there’s one assumption that it’s generally safe to make about people who run for president, it’s that they have a healthy sense of their own abilities and importance. Imagine, for example, Vivek Ramaswamy standing up during the next debate and informing the others on stage that the time has come for them to ride off into the sunset. I mean, he could do it – but it won’t work.

But even beyond that, even if all the candidates except, say, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis woke up tomorrow and decided they’d seen enough of Dubuque, the math simply doesn’t hold up . That’s what’s important about the 2016 precedent: Trump remained ahead of the pack while winning most states by modest margins. As of mid-April 2016, even after most other candidates dropped out, Trump held just over 40 percent of the FiveThirtyEight polling average.

Trump is at 55% in that same average, which is higher than he was before. any of them point in 2016.

Plus, it’s not like he’s only liked by those who already say they want to support him. This is the underlying thesis that Sununu proposes: there is a Trump vote and a non-Trump vote and the two do not overlap. Polls have repeatedly shown that this is not true; Trump and DeSantis, for example, share a heavily overlapping pool of voters that generally prefers the former president.

Consider the most recent Economist poll conducted by YouGov. Trump received 53% of the vote among those choosing a candidate, an increase of almost 40 points compared to DeSantis (14). Behind DeSantis is former ambassador Nikki Haley with 5%, then a few others in the single digits.

On its own, the math doesn’t work: if Trump gets 53% of the vote, the consolidated non-Trump vote would be 47%. And that excludes the 5 percent who say they wouldn’t vote. (Among those planning to vote, Trump is at 56 percent.)

YouGov also asked who people would choose if their favorite candidate was not on the ballot. Ten percent of them said Trump. In other words, if you eliminate everyone from the race except Trump and the magic candidate, a portion of the people whose first choice disappeared would shift their support to Trump.

It’s difficult to give a precise number, but we can do some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

Let’s say DeSantis is the magic candidate. He’s already at 14 percent, with another 24 percent committed to other candidates. (Some respondents said they weren’t sure who they would support.) If we assume that 1 in 10 of those 24 percent votes go to Trump, that’s an additional 2 percentage points. The final vote margin is therefore 55 percent for Trump, 36 for DeSantis.

Oh, by the way, when a YouGov poll in mid-August pitted Trump and DeSantis head-to-head, Trump beat DeSantis 60% to 23%. After all, only a quarter of non-Trump voters told YouGov in the most recent Economist poll that DeSantis was their second choice.

It’s also not like Republicans generally dislike Trump. In this later poll, Trump’s approval rating was 76 percent within his party, well above DeSantis’ 66 percent. Additionally, more than half of Republicans said they viewed Trump very favorably, compared to a third who said the same of DeSantis.

The Economist poll also asked potential primary voters whether they would be disappointed if certain candidates won the nomination. Only 18 percent said they would be disappointed if DeSantis won. Seventeen percent said the same about Trump, tied with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) for the lowest percentage.

Sununu may be right that a consolidated magic candidate could be somewhat effective in hampering Trump in Sununu’s home state of New Hampshire. There, polls often put Trump at less than 50 percent. But hey, they still have a good lead, and we don’t know how the votes would evolve if the competition between Trump and the magic candidate arises.

If you are an outspoken opponent of Trump, like Sununu, you need to say something. You need to present a path to a non-Trump candidate who recognizes the reality that none of his opponents seem likely to suddenly overtake him. Or of course, you might just worry.

Sununu acknowledged the futility of his argument at one point in the interview, albeit indirectly.

“I actually think it’s more likely at this point that Biden won’t be on the list than Trump,” he said.

This is not a statement about electoral politics, it is safe to assume, but it is telling: it is more likely that the incumbent, facing no substantial opposition, will fail to secure the nomination that Trump could fail?

This seems like a strike against the magic candidate.


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