Opinion: Trump continues to do poorly in Republican races

Don’t fall for the media hoopla. In fact, Donald Trump is doing extraordinarily poorly in the Republican primaries and caucuses.

In Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary, he pulled in just 59.8% of the vote. Nikki Haley got 39.5%.

If Joe Biden had gotten less than 60% of the vote in a Democratic primary, the mainstream media would declare his reelection campaign in dire straits.

Trump’s reelection campaign is in dire straits.

In 1992, Patrick Buchanan won 40% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, holding George H.W. Bush to 58% — almost exactly what Haley did to Trump on Saturday. The New York Times treated the outcome as a huge problem for Bush, with the headline “BUSH JARRED IN FIRST PRIMARY” followed by a story characterizing the result as “a roar of anger” toward Bush from Republican primary voters.

South Carolina’s result was just as much a “roar of anger” from Republican primary voters toward Trump.

And South Carolina is about as deep red as it gets.

In the New Hampshire primary, Trump got 54.3% of the vote; Haley, 43.2%. In Iowa, Trump got just 56,260 votes. There are 2,083,979 registered voters in Iowa. Hence, fewer than 3% of Iowans voted for him.

So why isn’t the mainstream media telling us how badly Trump is doing instead of saying he has the nomination “sewn up?”

Of course he has it sewn up. He’s the Republican incumbent, not because he claims to have won in 2020 but because he is in fact the most recent Republican president — and he’s running for reelection.

A party incumbent who’s running for reelection has a huge advantage over anyone who might want to challenge him. He’s not only the head of the party; he has control over the party machinery.

That Trump has done as badly notwithstanding is (or should be) the big news.

The pertinent question isn’t whether Trump has the nomination sewn up. It’s how strongly Republican voters are behind him. What we’ve learned from the caucuses and primaries so far is that maybe 60% of Republican voters are solidly behind him.

For a party incumbent running for reelection, 60% support by his party is pathetic — revealing a remarkable degree of anti-Trump sentiment among Republicans.

According to exit polls in South Carolina, Trump lost moderate voters to Haley by a wide margin. And according to AP VoteCast, a bit over 1 in 5 Republican primary voters in South Carolina said they would not vote for Trump in November if he is the party’s nominee.

The media loves a horse race because a horse race generates excitement and interest. So the media made the competition for the Republican nomination into a horse race and led the public into believing that Ron DeSantis and then Nikki Haley could beat Trump. Neither of them had a real chance.

Yet by focusing on the “race” for the nomination and on Trump’s “victories,” the media is missing news that’s far more relevant to the general election — the discomfort so many Republicans feel with the incumbent Republican now running for reelection.

The danger is that as the media continues to describe the Republican primaries and caucuses as “big victories” for Trump, while telling Americans little about Biden other than that voters are worried about his age, the media creates a myth of a victorious Trump and a weak Biden — a myth that could carry over into the general election.

The reality is that an incumbent Democratic president and the most recent Republican incumbent president are both seeking reelection.

Although parts of the Democratic Party have real concerns about Biden, there’s little question about their support.

Trump, on the other hand, is facing strong headwinds even in his own party. And independents, who comprise half of the electorate and tend to be moderate, clearly dislike the putative Republican nominee.

— Robert B. Reich is a columnist for Tribune Content Agency.


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