With Joe Biden showing increasing vulnerability in the polls, the Republican Party is seeking a nominee who has the potential to win big next November.
While the conventional wisdom has changed from whether Donald Trump can win — as indeed, the polls do show increasingly that he can — virtually no independent public poll shows Trump with an overwhelming victory of the type that would be needed to hold the House and flip the Senate.
This is not to say such a victory with Trump as the Republican nominee is impossible. Polling shows that Trump is seen as a stronger leader, with better approval ratings than President Biden, whose numbers keep declining due to a sense of weakness in the economy, doubts about his age, and questions surrounding his involvement with his son Hunter Biden’s overseas business partners.
So the question is: Can Trump be beaten in the Republican primary? With over a 40 point lead in the primary, the answer at this point is most likely no. Trump does show some vulnerabilities, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire, where his lead in some polls is under 30 and closer to 25 points, but even in those states, he is the favorite, given a divided GOP field and a first-past-the-post system of allocated delegates.
Who then, is the potentially strongest candidate? From the debate, Nikki Haley appeared to be the most reasonable candidate for independent women and moderates, but it is unclear as of this writing whether she can win the nomination.
Vivek Ramaswamy had a strong appeal to those looking for an outsider, fresh face, and even religious conservatives, as his first campaign platform is that “God is real.” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), despite trailing Trump badly in most national polls, is faring slightly better in the early state of Iowa per Des Moines Register polling, and a breakthrough there could well reinvigorate his fledgling campaign.
The bottom line is that none of the other GOP candidates are likely alternatives to Trump, which means that potentially the strongest Republican is unlikely to get in the race. Who would that person be? Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia.
Youngkin, who won an upset victory in 2021 by appealing to both moderates and Trump Republicans with a center-right agenda, is reportedly a presidential favorite of establishment conservatives like Fox News’ Rupert Murdoch.
In two months, Virginia voters will decide whether Republicans, led by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, will gain unilateral control of the commonwealth’s legislature. A GOP sweep of the General Assembly would give Republicans the power to enact a conservative agenda in a state that has been drifting Democratic for 15 years and would represent a stunning rebuke of President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party ahead of next year’s presidential elections.
Given what’s at stake, national Democrats are heavily invested in Virginia’s elections. Biden recently cleared the Democratic National Committee to send $1.2 million to the state to fund staff for campaign coordination and get-out-the-vote efforts, bringing the Democratic Party’s total statewide expenditure to $1.5 million.
Should Virginia Republicans win control of both legislative chambers, it would earn Youngkin valuable political capital and possibly serve as a launching pad for a late entrance into the Republican presidential primary.
If the Republicans do win in Virginia, the only way Youngkin can get into the race in November or early December would be if the GOP field fractures in such a way that it appears there will be no clear frontrunner from the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, thus presenting an opening for a late-entry candidate.
Given the nature of the primary system, such an initiative is unlikely due to ballot access questions and fundraising challenges. However, in a year with record voter dissatisfaction, polarization and division both between the parties and within the parties, one can never say never.
As a pro-growth businessman who supports parental rights in education, Youngkin would be a very strong candidate in the commonwealth of Virginia and would be broadly acceptable nationally in a way that most, if not virtually all of the Republican candidates would have trouble replicating.
But for Youngkin to be a candidate there are so many variables that would need to occur, and it is becoming increasingly unlikely that all of the conditions will be met. Republicans would need to win a big victory in Virginia’s legislative races, the GOP field would need to prevent Trump from an overwhelming or even clear victory in Iowa or New Hampshire and the Virginia governor would need to be able to, at the last minute, mount a campaign for president.
Still, we are facing unprecedented times with a former president facing four indictments, an incumbent Democrat who is increasingly weak and an electorate yearning for fresh faces and clear alternatives. Thus, we cannot exclude Glenn Youngkin, a rising star in the Republican Party, when thinking about potential candidates for president in 2024.
Douglas E. Schoen and Carly Cooperman are pollsters and partners with the public opinion company Schoen Cooperman Research based in New York. They are co-authors of the book, “America: Unite or Die.”
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