The difficulty of gauging Trump’s strength

I predicted that once Donald Trump was out of office, his ability to draw large crowds to his rallies would diminish as people wearied of hearing the same stuff over and over again. It looks like I was wrong. He has been holding allies like the one in Iowa that drew a large audience. Since this is the first state to vote in presidential primaries, his visit was seen as an indicator that he plans to run again. He spoke for almost two hours, devoting much of it to the well-debunked claims that he only lost the election due to fraud. The fact that so many people would devote such a large amount of time to attend an event and listen to him saying what he has said many times before shows that his hold on the Republican party remains strong.

Anthony Zurcher of the BBC also attended the Trump rally and sees indications that despite the large and enthusiastic turnout that shows that his hold on the base is strong, Trump’s hold on the party may be slipping.

If Trump is dipping his toe once more into presidential politics, the prospect hasn’t been universally welcomed outside the friendly confines of his rallies.

A recent Pew Research poll found that, while two-thirds of Republicans in the US want Trump to remain a “major political figure”, fewer than half want him to seek the Republican presidential nomination a third time.

It’s what the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin has called the “gold watch” constituency – a portion of the party that wants to thank Trump for his service and then usher him into retirement with a shiny gift and a pat on the back.

That is a sentiment shared by Iowans like Josh Luedtke, a senior at the University of Iowa and a member of the school’s College Republicans.

“I think there are better options out there for the Republican Party,” he says. “Yes, Donald Trump did a lot of great things for our country. But he also did a lot of dividing of the people.”

If Trump is going to run again, he’ll need to convince people like Luedtke that he can win in 2024, says Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent Iowa evangelical leader.

“His key is going to be, can I get beyond that base,” he says. “Is Biden’s such a failed leader that, yes, we will go there again. And I’d recommend to him that you have to focus on your accomplishments.”

If Trump does enter the race, Vander Plaats says, he should be able to clear most of the field. But if someone like DeSantis or Pompeo stays in, things could get interesting.

“You’re not going to beat Trump by attacking him from the left,” he says. “The issue won’t be that they’re against Trump. The issue would have to be, we believe we can win, and we have to win.”

Of course, in 2016 there were plenty of Republicans – a majority of primary voters, in fact – who didn’t support Trump’s march to the party’s nomination. Trump won with a plurality, and he could do so again. This time around, he will have even greater advantages – including an established fundraising network, a more experienced campaign team and a party hierarchy at the state and national level that, unlike 2016, is now filled with Trump loyalists.

Another person who sees weakness despite this show of support is conservative columnist Rich Lowry.

Republican politicians can be forgiven for thinking that the GOP is Trump’s world, and they only live in it at his sufferance.

He not only survived Jan. 6 and his second impeachment — he has thrived since.

A Pew poll came up with less encouraging numbers for Trump, with two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents saying he should stay politically active, but only 44 percent saying he should run for president. Still, Pew found that 63 percent of Republicans say the party should not be accepting, or at least too accepting, of GOP officials who openly criticize Trump.

And yet, despite all this, there are reasons to believe Trump’s dominance is exaggerated and that it is slowly degrading, such that by the time the 2024 Republican primaries roll around, he’ll be challengeable and beatable if he runs.

At the end of the day, what primary voters in both parties most want is to win. And this is Trump’s true Achilles’ heel. The fact is that he lost to Joe Biden, and, despite last-minute changes in election procedures and the media and social media landscape being stacked again him, it was fundamentally his doing. His chief vulnerability is that, eventually, on a debate stage or someplace else, someone will put this to him directly, and it will land.

Perhaps if Trump decides to make the plunge in 2024, he will clear the field and sweep to his third consecutive GOP presidential nomination. His surface-level strength at the moment, though, might obscure a weakness that will tell over time.

The intrepid Jordan Klepper attended the Iowa Trump rally and found the usual assortment of devoted cult members willing to go on the record and say the most outrageous things.

Klepper later discussed his experiences at these rallies.


  1. Deepak Shetty says

    But if someone like DeSantis or Pompeo stays in, things could get interesting.

    There is zero chance that a Trump follower like DeSantis can beat Trump himself in a Republican primary -- which base are they appealing to ?
    Given the current state of the American voters, Im going to guess my only source of feeling slightly amused will be to watch what Ted Cruz does against Trump or perhaps if Christie decides to go full attack dog.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    I think the only way he could not get the nomination is if he is in jail — all the GOP pols seem to be in abject terror of him.
    Possibly he might win from jail — he seems to break every other norm.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    At this point I think I feel like Trump would not just win from jail, him being in jail would make a win more likely. He fucking loves playing victim. If I was Biden I’d place a ban on even prosecuting him until after the next election.

  4. garnetstar says

    I also think that Trump’s support is diminishing, but the support for fascism and the fascist republican party has not.

    The republicans would prefer a different presidential candidate, because Trump’s a wild card and quite inept. But, if anyone else stays in the primary, he will savage them and deliberately try to lose the election for the republicans. And then, of course, no one will energize the democratic vote like Trump would, they must be eagerly awaiting his winning the primary.

    A toss-up, I think. The real danger is the republicans winning control of the house and/or senate next year. Then, zero chance of this administration of getting anything else done, and strengthening the democratic candidate in 2024, and preventing a fascist takeover of the election.

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