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Washington Wednesday presidential candidate profile series: Donald Trump


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday presidential candidate profile series: Donald Trump

Evaluating the electability of the former president

Former President Donald Trump raises his fists as he speaks to supporters while announcing a third run for president, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s the 29th day of March, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Washington Wednesday.

Today, we are talking again about the 2024 battle for the White House. And we’re focusing on a candidate who seven years ago turned the political world upside down.

We are talking, of course, about former President Donald Trump.

Today we’ll examine his campaign and his prospects for moving back into the White House less than two years after moving out.

REICHARD: It has been nearly eight years since he took that famous ride down the escalator at Trump Tower in Manhattan and made this announcement:

TRUMP: I am officially running for president of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again.

And last November, he made the same pledge.

TRUMP: America’s comeback starts right now

You cannot consider Trump’s candidacy without considering his presidency. And Trump will certainly have positives to run on. For most conservatives, that starts with his makeover of the US Supreme Court.

TRUMP: It is my honor and privilege to announce that I will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.

EICHER: The new conservative high court majority ultimately led to the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Most Republican voters also appreciate the sweeping tax overhaul he signed in 2017. Among other things, it cut corporate taxes to their lowest since 1939. And supporters say that was part of a pro-business agenda that helped to fuel a roaring pre-pandemic economy.

REICHARD: President Trump was unable to fully build the promised border wall, but Republicans credit Trump for policies that helped to curb illegal immigration. The effects of the remain in Mexico rule and other policies became clearer when the current administration reversed them. That gave rise to record-shattering numbers of illegal crossings.

And on foreign policy, Trump can point to diplomatic wins in the Middle East with the signing of the Abraham Accords.

TRUMP: In a few moments, these visionary leaders will sign the first two peace deals between Israel and an Arab state in more than quarter-century.

EICHER: The deal normalized relations between Israel and some Arab nations. And then there was Trump’s tough stance on China, which pleased many Republicans.

But he also took a lot of flak.

Some disagree with his decision to negotiate with the Taliban on leaving Afghanistan. And critics charge Trump was manipulated by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in nuclear talks that ultimately led nowhere.

REICHARD: Some complained about his administration’s rushed approval of COVID-19 vaccines. Trump was booed by some of his own supporters at a rally in 2021.

TRUMP: I recommend take the vaccines! I did it. It’s good. Take the vaccines. Nah, that’s okay, that’s alright. You’ve got your freedoms.

A large section of the party did not approve of his public remarks ahead of the Capitol riot or his handling of the incident as it unfolded.

EICHER: And Trump’s current and likely Republican opponents are already attacking his electability. They point to three straight disappointing elections for Republicans since Trump’s initial victory in 2016.

And then there is the factor of age. If Trump wins another term, he would turn 80 in the White House.

Joining us now to talk about candidate Trump’s place in the 2024 Republican field is our own Kent Covington. Good morning, Kent!

KENT COVINGTON: Good morning!

REICHARD: Well, let’s start with current events. One thing we haven’t talked about yet is this potential indictment hanging over Donald Trump’s head in Manhattan. Trump himself predicted that he would be arrested and indicted last week. That did not happen. But it still might. This stems from a probe into payments he allegedly made to silence extramarital affairs. What impact do you think this could have on his campaign?

COVINGTON: It’s really hard to say. Of course, from a legal perspective, you had a great conversation here a couple weeks back with Dr. Marc Clauson about the potential indictment. He seemed to believe that this is on very shaky legal ground. But nevertheless, a trial could interfere with his campaign. 

I don’t think it’s going to change that way very many people view Donald Trump. Some of the personal ethical issues in Trump’s past are already known by voters. He’s already been through the whole Russia investigation, which turned up nothing. He’s been through two impeachments … and the Jan. 6 committee hearings, which were essentially a trial—or just a prosecution, really—in the court of public opinion. 

Is one more probe, one more trial, going to change anyone’s mind one way or the other? Maybe at the margins, but there’s an argument that it could actually help him if many Republicans see this as illegitimate and circle the wagons around him. So again, it’s really hard to say what effect this would have. Normally, if a presidential candidate were indicted, it would be a huge, massive deal. But normal rules don’t apply here.

REICHARD: Kent, what are Donald Trump’s strengths as a candidate as you see them in this GOP primary race?

COVINGTON: Well, I think it’s some of the things you just mentioned. He has a record to run on that most Republicans will appreciate. The pre-pandemic economy, the Supreme Court, the border, all of that.

He already has a powerful campaign apparatus. And he has a very high floor. He has a base of probably about a third of Republican voters who will back him no matter what. That’s a huge advantage.

REICHARD: Okay, those are strengths. What of his weaknesses?

COVINGTON: Well, in some ways he is the inverse of Barack Obama in that polls largely showed that a majority of Americans disapproved of Obama’s policies. BUT most voters liked him personally.

I don’t think voters have taken issue with Trump on policies, particularly Republican voters now. For those GOP voters who are reluctant to vote for him, I think it’s the other stuff. There are some people that find his demeanor, name-calling and that sort of stuff to be very offputting.

And when you compare Trump’s peak polling with Republican voters as president compared to right now it seems like there could be a certain amount of Trump fatigue.

REICHARD: Well, what are the early poll numbers telling us right now? Trump said the other day that he’s leading all of his opponents and likely opponents by a mile. True?

COVINGTON: Well, I would respectfully disagree with that characterization. I would say he is in a solid position, but not a great position.

And let me just start by saying that it’s so ridiculously early that anything can happen. We can’t put too much stock in polls right now.

But at such an early stage in an election cycle, polls generally tend to favor candidates with high name recognition. And Donald Trump is probably just about the most recognizable name on planet earth.

Early polls show Trump with an average of the latest polls have Trump with about 45% support among Republicans. And that has him up by about 15 points over his closest rival, which is Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

REICHARD: Well, that certainly sounds like good news for Trump, no?

COVINGTON: Well, yes and no. Would you rather be up by 15 points than down? Sure, absolutely. But again, given that Trump is so well known this early on, it’s hard for me to see any poll that has him under 50% with Republicans as a good poll for him.

I think we have to look at what’s known as the “incumbent rule.” Because in terms of the Republican primary, Trump is the incumbent.

And the National Council on Public Polls says that more than 80% of the time, most undecided voters pull the lever for the challenger.

And the reason for that is that voters already know what they’re going to get with the incumbent. So if they don’t already support that candidate, chances are better than not that they are not going to.

IF DeSantis emerges as the major challenger to Trump, it’s probably going to be a lot easier for him to build significantly on that 30% than it will be for Trump to build on his 45%.

So if I were working for the Trump campaign, I would call that 15-point edge—at this stage— an uncomfortable lead. Let’s put it that way. I think his campaign would like to see Trump over 50% consistently.

REICHARD: Well, what percentage of GOP voters did Trump win over in his first campaign?

COVINGTON: That’s a great question, and it certainly underscores that fact that Trump is still in a solid position. Not comfortable, but solid because in 2016, he won with 45% of the Republican vote almost exactly where he’s polling right now.

So can he win with 45%? Absolutely. He’s done it before. But … that was the lowest percentage of the primary vote for any Republican nominee since Barry Goldwater in 1964.

And it was only the second time since 1964 that anyone won the nomination with less than 50%. John McCain was the other person to do it.

So, 7–8 years ago… The majority of Republican voters actually preferred someone other than Trump. But they could not make up their mind who that other person should be.

Jeb Bush seemed to be the first guy with momentum. But that a bunch of people all took the return surging in the polls: Ben Carson, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz.

But ultimately, Republicans, who preferred somebody, other than Trump, again, just never found consensus behind any one candidate.

REICHARD: So is that the question now? Whether enough voters coalesce behind some other candidate?

COVINGTON: oh, as long as Trump is polling under 50%, that is exactly the question. If it is a big Republican field, and candidates that are frankly on the fringe of the race stick around for a long time, then 45% will probably be enough once again. And that could very well happen.

Because while President Trump may have a harder ceiling in terms of it being more difficult to add to that 45%. He also has the extreme advantage of very lower floor. Again, he has a base of support that will stick with him no matter what. So this is going to be a fascinating race.

Kent Covington is World’s radio news director. Kent, thanks so much!


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