Biden’s Secret Weapon: Trump?

Why some prominent members of the GOP are doing all they can to find a new front-runner – before it’s too late.

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Why some prominent members of the GOP are doing all they can to find a new front-runner – before it’s too late.

He may be the Republican front-runner, but Donald Trump is rapidly hemorrhaging the bold-name, established conservatives who first propelled him to the White House.

The splintering of the GOP electorate could go a long way toward bolstering President Biden, who is far from owning the polls, especially if Republicans are unable to find another Trump — minus the baggage. 

In a Quinnipiac poll out this week, Biden was narrowly ahead of Trump by 49 percent to 44 percent in a head-to-head matchup among registered voters. If Biden is able to maintain or widen that lead, it could mean that Trump’s base will be headed for another devastating loss, unless it changes course, soon.

Rupert Murdoch, chair of Fox Corp. and executive chairman of News Corp., signaled in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that he believes Trump, while still exceedingly popular among Fox News viewers, is not the right choice for the Republican Party – or the White House – in 2024. (Murdoch is Australian, but he is also a naturalized U.S. citizen, in addition to running one of the nation’s most politically influential news networks.)

Heavyweight GOP donors, such as industrialist billionaires Charles and David Koch, along with their sprawling donor networks, also made plain at the outset of this year that they would be having none of Trump’s antics in 2024. In a memo, their libertarian conservative political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity Action, observed, “Our country must move past the current political situation — we’ve got to turn the page on the past several years. If we want to elect better people, we need better candidates. And if we want better candidates, we’ve got to get involved in elections earlier and in more primaries.”

Yet in a sign that even the Kochs – who not long ago, absolutely dominated Republican politics – don’t really know what to do about the 2024 election, many within their coalition of conservatives have held off on writing the really big checks, as the search continues for that elusive unicorn: a Trump opponent who can take out the original. So far this year, the Kochs have raised more than $70 million for political races in a bid to unseat Trump. But the former president has shocked even his most virulent foes for his indefatigable staying power in the polls and ability to successfully fundraise in the face of dozens of indictments.

In a survey of Republican and GOP-leaning voters, this week’s Quinnipiac poll showed Trump handily leading all other Republican presidential candidates, with 54 percent of the vote, far ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 25 percent. Former Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Trump’s former vice president Mike Pence each came in at 4 percent. Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie each received 3 percent of the vote, while entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy came in at 2 percent.

With just over six months to the primaries, hopes are fast dimming that DeSantis will be the right’s great deliverance from Trump, as he’s gaffed his way through most of the year and failed to gain traction nationally. What’s wrong with him? As Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin puts it, in an outstanding screed, “Being an unlikeable jerk [is] not working out so well for Ron DeSantis.”

Murdoch, according to press reports, has privately said he would like to see Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia run, but it remains to be seen if Youngkin, who took himself out of the race earlier this spring, is ready to jump back in again. It looks like he might consider it.

At the same time, anti-Trump Republican groups are moving swiftly, albeit cautiously, to loosen conservative voters up to the idea of rallying behind a candidate who is not facing what appears to be a third round of blistering indictments. 

While the first two, covered variously by Power Corridor herehere and here, were serious enough, the letter Trump revealed this week from U.S. Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith indicated he is now the target of federal charges for allegedly interfering with the peaceful transfer of power in the 2020 presidential election (read: the insurrection). 

Although none of the indictments have been welcome news for Trump’s candidacy – and he has categorically pleaded not guilty to all of them – this letter outlined how Trump could be charged under three statutes, including conspiracy to commit an offense against or defraud the U.S. and tampering with a witness. Target letters usually precede a person being charged. 

The pro-Republican groups floating anti-Trump ads include Win it Back, an organization linked to Club for Growth, which is rolling out a $3.6 million ad campaign in states holding pivotal early primaries. Notably, the ads do not seek to promote a specific GOP candidate so much as look to simply warn voters away from Trump in general. In one of them, a man named “John,” says he supported Trump, but, “He’s got so many distractions, the cost of fighting, something every day, and I’m not sure he can focus on moving the country forward.”

Another ad recently out from Republican anti-Trump group the Lincoln Project ticks off a long list of former Trump allies who have since denounced him or are running against him, including Pence and Haley. 

In addition to the Kochs and Murdoch, other big donors and former Trump allies are abandoning him for alternative Republican candidates. Billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen supports Christie; Trump’s former director of the National Economic Council and former Fox Business host Larry Kudlow is backing Pence; billionaire Silicon Valley businessman Larry Ellison is backing Scott; and billionaire investors Paul Singer and Stanley Druckenmiller are both supporting Haley. 

Billionaire Tesla and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk has publicly aligned himself with DeSantis, but given Musk’s capriciousness, that partnership seems unlikely to stick if DeSantis continues to suffer in the polls. 

Tech billionaire and Republican mega-donor Peter Thiel, who famously backed Trump during the former president’s ascension – and regretted it – reportedly won’t be backing any GOP candidates in 2024. 

Given Trump’s dominance – and obvious weaknesses – a growing number of Republicans have not only come to resent the notion that the former president would be the presumed front-runner, but are increasingly making the case that doing so will only cement another win for Biden. 

In a memo out earlier this month, Michael Palmer, president of a Koch-affiliated voter group, pointed out that the anointing of Trump as the de facto GOP nominee “is being pushed by left-leaning media outlets, political operatives and the Trump campaign itself.”

America is in a different place than where it was eight years ago when it elected Trump, Palmer said, and it deserves a stronger slate of candidates.

“Voters of all stripes (including GOP primary voters), have a changed base of knowledge regarding the former president,” he said, “And other candidates will most certainly treat him differently in the primary this time around.”