Trump's 2024 rivals predict shift is coming in primary landscape

Republicans vying for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination are adamant that the dynamics in the primary are poised to change in the coming months, even as former President Trump builds on his sizable lead in the polls amid various legal problems.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have in recent days separately argued that it’s too soon to anoint Trump as the party’s 2024 nominee, more than one year before such a nominee becomes official. Candidates and some strategists have noted that the first debate has yet to happen, and that in past presidential cycles, the eventual nominee was often not leading in the polls at this point in the process.

Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” host Maria Bartiromo asked DeSantis in a Sunday interview to respond to reports about why his campaign has struggled to build momentum and break through with voters after the governor entered the race with high expectations as Trump’s chief challenger.

DeSantis argued the idea that his campaign was sputtering was a media narrative — “The media does not want me to be the nominee,” he said — but he acknowledged it would be a months-long effort to win over GOP voters. He suggested the first primary debate, scheduled for August, is when that shift would start to occur.

“I think really, Maria, that’s when people are really going to start paying attention to the primary,” DeSantis said. “I think up to this point, a lot of that has been about some of these legal cases. And I think a lot of the voters’ concern about that and understandably so.”

Haley has similarly struggled to gain much ground in the polls, despite being in the race since February, longer than several of her rivals. She pointed to historical precedent to argue that just because Trump is leading in the polls currently doesn’t mean he will maintain that spot in the months to come.

“I know that by mid-fall, this is going to be totally different. Once you pass Labor Day, the numbers start to shift. And you can look at history for that. That’s not me just hoping, that’s me knowing,” Haley said in an interview with The New York Times.

Allies of candidates such as former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) have argued that they will see their polling improve as more voters get to know them on the trail.

But Trump’s lead has been resilient and has even grown in the wake of multiple indictments and new entrants into the 2024 field, while the challengers — led by DeSantis — have struggled to chip away at the former president’s lead with voters. And some strategists warned that this cycle is unlike others in the past, given Trump has been the party’s nominee twice before.

“You cannot depend on the way things have always happened,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. “If you want to change the campaign, you have to go out and change it. You can’t depend on someone changing it for you.”

There has been relatively little movement in polls over the past few months, with Trump holding steady atop most surveys, typically followed by DeSantis, then a cluster of candidates including Haley, Pence, Scott and others in single digits.

A RealClearPolitics average of polls showed that Trump’s standing in national GOP primary surveys was at its lowest point in early March, at 43 percent. But in the four months since, the former president has seen his lead in the polling average grow and hold steady at more than 50 percent.

A Fox News poll of GOP primary voters published June 28 found 56 percent of those surveyed said they’d like to see Trump as the party’s 2024 nominee; DeSantis was second with 22 percent support, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy finished third at 5 percent support.

A Florida Atlantic University poll conducted June 27-July 1 also found Trump with a 20-point lead over DeSantis in their home state.

Still, there are signs individual candidates may have an opening to put a dent in Trump’s lead in some early voting states, and in Iowa in particular.

Committed to America, a super PAC supporting Pence’s presidential bid, said in a late June memo that it had knocked on more than 120,000 doors in Iowa, and that its data shows Pence’s support has steadily increased in the state.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who coasted to reelection in 2022, has appeared at multiple events this year alongside DeSantis or his wife, Casey, something that appeared to draw the ire of Trump on Monday when he attacked her on Truth Social.

And there is broad agreement among candidates and strategists that the first debates will be critical for candidates looking to make an impression with voters.

If Trump chooses to skip the first debate in August, which he has repeatedly threatened to do, it will become that much more important for candidates like Haley, Pence and DeSantis who are hoping for a breakthrough moment.

“It seems like at this point it’s not even a two person race,” said one former adviser to Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns. “The question is, can somebody in that other group — whether it’s DeSantis or Mike Pence or Vivek Ramaswamy — can they do something and get some traction and pull some of those poll numbers down.”


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