Thursday, 18 Apr 2024

Do Christie and Pence Make It 2016 Again? Not Yet.

A bigger field in the G.O.P. primary could chip away at DeSantis’s chances of overtaking Trump.

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By Nate Cohn

It’s been feeling a bit like 2016 lately.

Back then, the opposition to Donald J. Trump was badly divided. The party couldn’t coalesce behind one candidate, allowing Mr. Trump to win the Republican primary with well under half of the vote.

With Mike Pence and Chris Christie bringing the field up to 10 candidates this week, it’s easy to wonder whether the same conditions might be falling into place again. Despite high hopes at the start of the year, Ron DeSantis has failed to consolidate Trump-skeptic voters and donors alike. Now, the likes of Mr. Pence and Mr. Christie — as well as Tim Scott and Nikki Haley — are in the fray and threatening to leave the Trump opposition hopelessly divided, as it was seven years ago.

In the end, Mr. Pence or Mr. Christie might well break out and leave the opposition to Mr. Trump as fractured as it was in 2016. But it’s worth noting that, so far, the opposition to Mr. Trump has been far more unified than it ever was back then. It’s not 2016, at least not yet.

So far this cycle, polls have consistently shown Mr. DeSantis with the support of a majority of Republican voters who don’t support Mr. Trump. Nothing like this happened in that past primary, when at various points five different candidates could claim to be the strongest “not-Trump” candidate, and none came even close to consolidating so much of the opposition to Mr. Trump. Ted Cruz got there eventually, but only after a majority of delegates had been awarded and it was down to him and John Kasich.

Perhaps surprisingly, Mr. DeSantis’s share of not-Trump voters has remained constant, even though his own support has dropped. This suggests Mr. DeSantis has mainly bled support to Mr. Trump, not to another not-Trump rival. It also suggests that the other not-Trump candidates may have bled support to Mr. Trump over the last half year as well.

Consolidation of Not-Trump Voters

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