Trump's Rivals Walk a Fine Line in GOP Nomination Race

By Emma Nguyen August 27, 2023

Poll figures reveal GOP rivals' struggle to challenge Donald Trump while keeping their popularity intact for the 2024 presidential nomination.

Recent polling data shows Donald Trump leading his closest Republican competitor for the 2024 presidential nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, by a generous 40 points. Surprisingly however, Trump's GOP adversaries appear reluctant to publicly criticize him in an effort to chip away at his 50+% primary vote support. To understand this seemingly paradoxical situation, let's delve into the poll statistics.

There's a clear pattern observed among GOP contenders who have attempted to criticize Trump - they've found their popularity amongst the Republican voter community adversely affected. The rise in primary polling is largely attributed to those candidates who generally steer clear of mentioning the former president or are providing him with public praises.

Take the example of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who took a confrontational stance against the former president. Christie's campaign was marred with low popularity, culminating in record low intraparty approval ratings. An astounding 61% of Republican voters expressed unfavorable views of him, plummeting Christie's favorability rating to minus-44 points in the latest Quinnipiac University poll.

Although Christie does boast of a support base within the GOP loyalists, demonstrated by him leading the Republican field in a July poll by New York Times/Siena College, the specifics tell a revealing story. Christie led (with 22%) among likely GOP primary voters who had supported Joe Biden in the 2020 election. However, this group constitutes less than 10% of the GOP primary electorate, rendering his overall support largely negligible.

This trend is not limited to Christie. Fellow GOP candidates Asa Hutchinson, former Arkansas Governor, and former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, both perceived as anti-Trump figures, share a similar plight. Despite their impressive careers, most Republicans still don't have a solid opinion on them due to a lack of substantial exposure, leading to unfavorable popularity ratios.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott offers an interesting contrast. Seen as a "happy warrior," his reluctance to criticise fellow Republicans allowed his popularity to soar, polling at a stable third position in Iowa.

Vivek Ramaswamy, an Ohio businessman, also proves the influence of Trump's popularity. Ramaswamy's unabashed praise for Trump and his bold promise to pardon Trump if need be, allowed him to climb the popularity charts to third place nationally, according to the Quinnipiac poll.

A disturbing revelation from a CBS News/YouGov poll is that a staggering 91% of likely Republican primary voters prefer candidates speak about their own case for nomination rather than against Trump. These figures hint at the precarious situation faced by GOP contenders.

Interestingly, CBS News poll indicated that Trump's followers believe (71%) information coming from him more than family and friends (63%). This implies that GOP candidates overly critical of Trump are unlikely to gain traction in the primary race.

Hence, Trump's rivals are faced with a "Houdini-like" challenge: undermining Trump's support delicately enough to avoid giving off the impression of attacking him.