Former President Donald Trump’s campaign is off to a rocky start as he tries to convince voters they should return him to the White House in two years.
His slow decline in support among Republican voters, which started almost two years ago, when he left the White House after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, has only increased since the disappointing midterm losses of many of his handpicked candidates cost Republicans control of the Senate and nearly kept the House in Democratic hands.
Then came a three-week stretch in which the lone announced candidate and presumed front-runner created back-to-back scandals for himself, first dining with a white supremacist and an antisemitic rap star and next, suggesting the “termination” of parts of the U.S. Constitution in an effort to relitigate his loss of the presidency in 2020.
The former president also faced a series of stunning legal losses, including a conviction against his company, the Trump Organization, on tax fraud charges and the appointment of a special prosecutor to oversee probes into his removal of classified material from the White House and his role in the failed effort to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
The apparent result is that the once untouchable Republican powerbroker has now fallen behind his Republican rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in the race for the nomination.
In a national poll taken at the start of this month, a near-majority of Republicans reported that they want DeSantis to be their nominee over Trump, with registered voters picking the rising star by 47% to 42% over Trump, according to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll released Thursday morning.
Trump has yet to leave his home state of Florida for the campaign trail — which has sparked debate behind the scenes among current and former advisers on how wise it was to announce his bid so early.
His nascent campaign team nevertheless said this week that they’re not worried, adding, “We are not going to play into the media’s game, where they are trying to dictate how we campaign.”
“This is a marathon, and our game plan is being implemented, even though the presidential calendar hasn’t been set yet and the 2022 midterm cycle just ended,” a campaign spokesman, Steven Cheung, told Yahoo News. “We’re focused on building out the operation and putting in place a foundation to wage an overwhelming campaign that’s never been seen before. We’re building out teams in early voting states and making sure we are positioned to win.”
The nonstop bad news has only emboldened likely opponents and conservative bigwigs, who have long been looking for a chance to move on from Trump and rebuild the GOP brand after three consecutive disappointing election cycles.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, a potential 2024 candidate, has been using the release of his memoir (which was published on the day Trump announced his candidacy) to campaign extensively in early-voting states. He spent Tuesday in South Carolina, shortly after President Biden boosted the state to even greater prominence by pushing a shakeup of the Democratic calendar that schedules its South Carolina primary first in the nation. Pence is scheduled to host another book event next week in New Hampshire.
DeSantis, meanwhile, has been quietly corralling GOP megadonors, as he considers launching his bid in the spring. He’s set to dine with possible donors in Miami this weekend, according to a Washington Post report.
Trump’s allies have been playing defense, particularly after the Democratic senatorial incumbent in Georgia, Raphael Warnock, defeated his Republican rival, Herschel Walker, a longtime friend of Trump’s whom the former president handpicked to run.
“If Walker had won today, everyone would be giving (Georgia Gov.) Brian Kemp the credit,” Roger Stone, Trump's longtime confidant, told Yahoo News on the day after Walker’s defeat, suggesting that the former president is not to blame for Walker’s loss. “I’d say it was a loss for Kemp and (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell — they went all in on this,” he added.