Former President Trump appears to be on a glide path to the Republican nomination after the first two primary contests, but his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire contained warning signs about his potential vulnerability in a general election.
In Iowa, nearly half of those who backed GOP candidate Nikki Haley said they would vote for President Biden over Trump in a general election.
Republican voters in New Hampshire expressed concerns about Trump as well, with one CBS News poll showing 47 percent of Republican primary voters saying they believe Trump would be unfit to serve as president if he were convicted in one of his four upcoming criminal trials.
The results showed that while Trump is a dominant force within his party, he has work to do with the kinds of independent voters he’ll likely need to win over in a general election.
“If the slowly unfolding trials drive away independents, we are in a lot of trouble come November,” said Dan Eberhart, a former donor to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who is now supporting Trump.
While Trump defeated former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in New Hampshire by a decisive 11 points, his victory was still not as sizable as many predicted and showed how Haley was boosted by undeclared voters in the state.
An ABC News exit poll showed Haley garnering 60 percent of independent voters, while Trump won 38 percent. The poll also found Haley won 58 percent of college graduates and narrowly edged out Trump among female voters, 49 to 48.
AP VoteCast data from New Hampshire found about half of GOP voters were at least somewhat concerned that Trump is too extreme to win the general election.
The data underscored a weakness the former president has going into the general election, where he’ll need to do more than win the support of staunch Republicans, something the Biden campaign was eager to highlight as they turned their attention toward a likely November match-up.
“The GOP primary has laid bare the stark and indisputable reality that while Trump has the united support of his MAGA base, he is struggling to make himself palatable to these key constituencies that will ultimately decide the election this November,” Quentin Fulks, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, told reporters Wednesday.
Even DeSantis, who suspended his own presidential campaign Sunday, told conservative radio host Steve Deace that he’d spoken to lifelong conservatives who indicated they don’t want to vote for Trump in 2024.
“He’s got to figure out a way to solve that. I think there’s an enthusiasm problem overall,” DeSantis said.
The Trump campaign and its allies have shrugged off much of the data out of New Hampshire, arguing Haley’s strength with moderate and independent voters merely highlights her weakness with actual Republicans.
“Nikki ‘Birdbrain’ Haley can NEVER win in the General Election because she will NEVER get MAGA!” Trump wrote Wednesday on his Truth Social platform.
The Trump campaign noted that the former president’s nearly 170,000 votes received in New Hampshire was a record-setting total for a presidential primary in either party. The former president has never had much of an issue turning out his base supporters, and he overwhelmingly won self-identified Republicans in New Hampshire.
Trump and his aides have also dismissed electability arguments against him by frequently highlighting general election polls that show him leading Biden both at the national level and in key swing states including Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia.
“I’m taking the NH exit polls with a grain of salt. Having lived in that state (NH) in the past, there is so many Massachusetts expats there it is hard to determine what’s real and what isn’t,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “And it’s not one of the six battleground states, plus 10 months is a political lifetime.”
Biden’s team has a full 10 months to remind voters about Trump’s fixation on exacting revenge on his enemies and to draw a contrast on pivotal issues such as abortion and the economy. The longer Haley stays in the primary race, the more time and money Trump will likely spend attacking her and campaigning for a largely Republican audience.
Eberhart suggested time was of the essence for the former president, who is eager to turn his attention toward Biden and the general election.
“The longer it takes Trump to put away Haley, the less time he is solely focused on the general election,” he said.