Will the Republicans Nominate Trump again? Examining Potential Indicators
Elections & Politics Policy Brief #64 | By: Ian Milden | March 1, 2023
Header photo taken from: Eva Marie Uzcategui / Bloomberg
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Donald Trump launched his third campaign for the Presidency in November. For several months, he had the field to himself. With Republican rivals launching campaigns to oppose him, this Brief will examine potential indicators that will come up over the next several months to help us determine Trump’s chances of winning the Republican nomination again.
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A recent poll conducted by NPR, PBS, and Marist College found that a majority of Republicans would prefer to nominate someone other than Donald Trump for president in 2024. While this data doesn’t suggest that Republicans are enthusiastic about a third Trump run, it’s still possible that Republicans could nominate him.
While it is too early to say whom the Republicans will nominate, there are some indicators that can be examined over the coming months that can provide a sense of Trump’s chances.
Indicator #1: The Number of Alternatives to Trump
One of the main things we don’t know about the Republican primary is who will run against Trump. Former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley launched her campaign on February 15th. If the field is larger, financial resources, staff, and voter preferences will be split further allowing one candidate who has deep support from a specific part of the Republican base to be in a better position.
The data from the previously mentioned NPR poll indicates that Trump is still the preferred option among Republicans who identify as evangelical Christians and lack a college education. Republicans who live in urban and suburban areas, Republicans who have college degrees, and unaffiliated voters who lean towards the Republican party seem to prefer someone else.
Based on this data, it’s not unreasonable to hypothesize that Trump is starting with a deep amount of support from specific parts of the Republican base. That means that if Trump is going to lose the primary, Republicans who oppose him need to quickly coalesce around a broadly acceptable alternative, and candidates who struggle to demonstrate viability will need to quickly drop out. Republican primaries are not required to award delegates proportionally, so there is little incentive for candidates who keep losing to remain in the race.
Indicator #2: How well do alternatives stand up to scrutiny?
Running for President is different than running for Governor or Senator. Many presidential candidates who won statewide races in their home states struggled with the scrutiny that comes with a Presidential campaign. This can manifest differently for candidates. For some candidates, a major scandal could be uncovered by the national media, and that would severely damage their campaign, such as Herman Cain in 2012.
Other candidates struggle to answer questions or do well in basic campaign events, like Rick Perry in 2012. Other candidates can struggle by failing to get significant interest, taking controversial positions on important campaign issues, or failing to properly respond to negative media coverage or campaign crises. If candidates struggle to deal with scrutiny from the media, polling data will provide evidence of eroding support over the next several months.
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Indicator #3: Campaign Finance Management
Candidates for federal offices are required to disclose how much money they have raised and spent every three months. Campaigns are also subject to some requirements on reporting what they spend their money on. Candidates who started running in the first three months of the year must publicly report their fundraising numbers to the FEC by mid-April.
There’s almost always someone who drops out of the Presidential race before the primaries start because they don’t have the financial resources to compete, or they mismanage the resources they have. Indicators of possible financial troubles are high spending in relation to the amount of money raised and a heavy reliance on donors who make the maximum contributions for the primary campaign. According to the FEC, the limit for individual contributions in the 2024 election is $3300.
While I expect Trump’s next quarterly FEC report to show that he has a strong grassroots donor base, examining his legal expenses in proportion to his other expenses and other campaign’s FEC reports may provide some insight. Trump has used his campaign funds to cover a lot of his more recent legal expenses, and if the costs of his legal defense grow, it could hamper his campaign’s ability to fund other campaign expenses.
A word about indictments
Trump is facing three separate criminal investigations. These separate investigations are run by the federal government, the New York state government, and the Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney’s office. Any or all of these investigations could lead to indictments in the coming year. While it is hard to predict how an indictment would affect the thoughts and decisions of Republican primary voters, it would not force Trump to drop out of the race. It may impact his fundraising, and it would likely force his campaign to spend more than they already are on lawyers.
A conviction and jail sentence also would not stop Trump from running. Socialist Eugene V. Debs ran for President in 1920 from federal prison, though that hurt his ability to compete. If Trump is indicted, I will wait for polling and campaign finance data to help explain the impact of an indictment on his Presidential campaign further.