Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is off to a brutally rocky start.
In the weeks since announcing his third campaign for President, Trump’s faced a historic criminal referral from the House Jan. 6 Committee, his company was found guilty of tax fraud, and his hand-picked Senate candidate in Georgia lost a winnable seat. But that’s not all. Trump also called for the “termination” of the Constitution in a social media post, and was met with widespread disgust after a dinner at his Mar-a-Lago Club with white supremacist Nick Fuentes and antisemitic rapper Kanye West.
The drumbeat of bad news and bad decisions has reduced Trump’s favorability rating to 31 percent of voters, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released this month, the lowest it’s been since 2015, the year he declared his first presidential run after riding down an escalator at Trump Tower, .
And Trump hasn’t done much to reverse the slump. He’s rarely left his Mar-a-Lago home since launching the campaign on Nov. 15, and hasn’t hosted any other major campaign events or attended rallies that might have helped keep his momentum going.
“What campaign? No rallies. No infrastructure that I can see,” says Larry Sabato, a prominent political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
His campaign website in late December listed no information about future events or his political platform. Visitors to the site saw a popup window requesting an email and cell phone number, which then sent them to a video of Trump encouraging supporters to “get on line, donate, sign up, take action, volunteer, get organized, talk to your neighbors.” Visitors were then directed to a fundraising page, and a link to a shop selling Trump 2024 campaign swag, including flags, T-shirts, wrapping paper featuring Trump in a Santa hat, and an ornament in the shape of a red baseball cap reading, “Trump Save America.”
Trump is still the most potent force in GOP politics, but polls show that his support among Republicans is beginning to soften. The share of Republicans who see Trump favorably dropped to 64% in December, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll, down from 75% two months earlier. More Republicans are open to other candidates as well. The same poll found that 61% of Republicans prefer a GOP candidate other than Trump who would pursue the policies from the Trump Administration. Thirty-one percent of Republicans want Trump to run in 2024, the poll found.
So far, Trump’s campaign is “disjointed, haphazard, unfocused, and still focused on the past, and his grievances, rather than the future, which is what attracted a lot of Republicans to him in 2015,” says Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. Nonetheless, Trump still has a grip on a meaningful slice of his party’s base. According to polling Ayres conducted with North Star Opinion Research, about 30% to 40% of GOP voters fall into what Ayres describes as being “always Trump,” people who say they will support Trump no matter what. That is a strong base from which to wage a Republican primary campaign, Ayres says.
Yet Trump’s poor showing thus far has opened the door for potential challengers in a GOP primary, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who are being encouraged to run by deep-pocketed Republican donors disenchanted with Trump. DeSantis won reelection in Florida by nearly 20 percentage points, a much wider margin than Trump’s win over Joe Biden in the state in 2020 and over Hillary Clinton there in 2016. Youngkin has won support from conservatives for passing tax cuts in Virginia and working to restrict what flexibility schools have to approach transgender and gender-fluid students.
And unlike Trump, potential contenders like DeSantis and Youngkin have the advantage of still being in office over the next year, giving them better opportunities to get the attention of GOP voters through policy wins and responding to current events.
The bad news for Trump isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to Trump’s campaign announcement last month by naming special counsel Jack Smith to take over investigations into the role Trump played in trying to overturn his 2020 election loss, as well as Trump’s mishandling of classified documents after he left office. And the investigation in Georgia by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis into Trump’s effort to press officials to change vote tallies is continuing to call witnesses from Trump’s circle. On Dec. 23, the House Jan. 6 Committee released a final report that contained reams of pages of damning testimony and evidence showing Trump trying to advance a slate of fake electors to block Biden’s win, and refusing to intervene as his supporters violently stormed the Capitol Building to stop the certification of the results.
Some Republican leaders have become more willing to criticize Trump in public in recent weeks, perhaps emboldened by failure of a Republican wave to materialize in the midterm elections, which showed the limits of Trump’s political clout. When Trump posted on his social media website TruthSocial that election fraud allows for the “termination” of articles of the Constitution, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said such a statement would disqualify him from the Oval Office. “Anyone seeking the presidency who thinks that the Constitution could somehow be suspended or not followed, it seems to me would have a very hard time being sworn in as President of the United States,” McConnell told reporters on Dec. 6. Last week, McConnell continued to ding Trump, telling NBC News, “the former President’s political clout has diminished.”
The weakening support for Trump among Republicans could be temporary. “He’s bounced back before,” Sabato says, adding that when “the pragmatic part of the party realizes how much he’s cost them, they pull back, but these same people will go with the flow” if Trump appears to be taking a clear lead against other candidates in the Republican primary.
On Dec. 14, Trump ignited speculation that he was about to make a move that would reignite some momentum for his presidential bid. He posted that he’d be making a “major announcement,” prompting speculation he had a major move planned related to his effort to win back the White House. The next day, Trump released a series of digital artworks of himself as nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, selling for $99 each. The profits went to Trump, not his campaign.
A few days later, on Dec. 20, there was another sign of possible movement on the political front. A fundraising appeal from Trump’s 2024 campaign touted a contest for a flight and hotel to attend Trump’s first rally since his presidential announcement. But the notice didn’t say where or when.