As Trump flirts with a 2024 presidential run to regain the White House, the early data clearly shows that if the nomination race were held today, the former president would be the overwhelming favorite.
Without Trump in the race, a new survey conducted by a GOP pollster who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and the then-president’s 2020 reelection campaign, points to former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the early favorites in what may end up being a large field of GOP White House hopefuls.
But with no formal 2024 announcement from Trump expected anytime soon, the former president will continue to dominate all 2024 discussions going forward.
"I think the elephant in the room is obviously Donald Trump," veteran GOP pollster Neil Newhouse told Fox News. "If the election were held today and if he wants the nomination, he’d be the odds on favorite."
Last weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference – the biggest and oldest annual gathering of conservative activists and leaders which is better known by its acronym CPAC – Trump returned to the spotlight for the first time since he left the White House on Jan. 20.
He predicted that in 2024 "a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House." And teasing a potential run, he asked "I wonder who that will be?"
Later in his speech, Trump once again falsely claimed he won last November’s presidential election and triggered an explosion of applause and cheers when he said of the Democrats, "who knows … I may even decide to beat them for a third time."
Following his speech, Trump touted his showing in the CPAC secret ballot straw poll. Asked during an interview on Fox News’ "The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton" on Sunday night on the chances he’ll run again for the White House in 2024, the former president said, "If you look at the kind of numbers, the support is tremendous. But we'll have to see."
Ninety-seven percent of those voting in the straw poll said they approved of the job Trump had done as president, and 95% said they wanted the Republican Party to continue to advance Trump’s agenda. That’s no surprise, given that CPAC has turned into a Trump lovefest over the past five years. But only 68% said they wanted the former president to run again in 2024, and his support dropped to 55% in the 2024 horserace question.
A national survey conducted the past two weeks among Republican voters by veteran GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio indicated that slightly more than half would support Trump if the 2024 primary were held today.
"To get a majority of the vote in the face of 14 or 15 other candidates – that’s huge. In my survey there wasn’t a single other person who broke into double digits. … After everything that’s occurred, it’s a hugely strong position for the former president to be in," Fabrizio told Fox News.
But Newhouse highlighted, "The CPAC data, Tony’s data, and what we’re seeing on the ground, just reinforces that Trump’s grip may have loosened over the GOP." But he emphasized that "as of right now it’s still his party."
Of course, we’ve got ages to go – including next year’s midterm elections – before the next presidential election cycle begins in earnest.
"Three and a half years is a long time and a lot of stuff can happen between now and then. Even if Trump doesn’t go for and decides not to run, he’s going to play a significant role in driving his supporters towards or away certain candidates," Newhouse said.
The survey by Fabrizio also included a hypothetical 2024 GOP presidential nomination matchup that doesn’t include Trump. On that question, Pence comes in first, with DeSantis slightly behind. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is the only other potential contender in double digits, with everybody else in the large potential field of Republican presidential contenders in single digits.
Fabrizio said he expected to see Pence, who has stayed far from the spotlight since the end of the Trump administration in late January, and Cruz, who’s been continuously in the headlines, at the top of the list.
"Mike Pence was vice president for four years. Ted Cruz ran for president once and certainly has gotten a lot of attention as of late. In today’s politics, when the main stream media is beating up on you, that’s a good thing for you particularly among Republican primary voters," Fabrizio noted.
But he spotlighted that "the one that’s surprising is DeSantis. He’s only been governor for two years. He doesn’t have length of service or national profile for years that other two gentlemen have had for years. But he has turned that clubhouse turn, if you will.. and has pulled even with them as a tier one contender."
DeSantis, a first-term governor and Trump ally who’s become very popular among conservatives nationwide the past year for his resistance to lockdowns and COVID restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, easily topped a second straw poll at CPAC last weekend that didn’t include Trump. DeSantis finished with 43% support in the hypothetical nomination showdown, with another strong Trump supporter, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, finishing second at 11%. Everyone else named in the straw poll finished in single digits.
CPAC was held in Orlando, Florida, in DeSantis’ home state. Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor and the mastermind behind both of President George W. Bush’s presidential election victories, pointed to the home field element, saying, "There is an advantage to [DeSantis] in that this was held in Florida."
But he also emphasized that part of DeSantis’ strong showing was being "a successful conservative governor of a purple state."
The recent buzz surrounding DeSantis appears to be resonating in presidential primary and caucus early voting states.
"New Hampshire Republicans are going to start tuning into everything that Gov. DeSantis says or does, because the number from that convention was a surprise and certainly bodes well for him," New Hampshire Institute of Politics executive director Neil Levesque, a former Republican congressional aide and adviser, told Fox News earlier this week.