The Republican primary landscape for the upcoming 2024 presidential race is undergoing a significant transformation due to the GOP’s perception of President Biden’s competency. Republican voters, who have been exposed to numerous images and videos portraying Biden as frail and stumbling, now see the 80-year-old Democratic incumbent as weak and vulnerable. This perception is having a profound effect on the electability argument put forward by contenders like Governor Ron DeSantis against former President Donald J. Trump.
The concept of “electability,” which revolves around determining which candidate has the best chance of winning a general election, became crucial after the 2022 midterms. Following the loss of Trump-backed candidates in key swing states, there was a push to persuade Republican voters to consider new faces as a way to move on from the Trump era. However, the current perception that Biden is weak has complicated this argument.
Republican voters, including those in early-voting states, now believe that practically any Republican candidate, including Trump, could defeat Biden. This view has diminished the urgency of the electability question in the minds of voters. According to a recent New York Times/Siena College poll, when asked which candidate was better positioned to beat Biden, 58% chose Trump, while 28% selected DeSantis.
Conservative media, particularly Fox News, has played a significant role in shaping this perception. Despite efforts by Trump’s rivals to emphasize electability, the diminished view of Biden has reduced the pressure among Republican voters to nominate someone new.
While electability remains a powerful tool for Trump’s opponents to sway the party away from him, the current polls indicating a close race between Biden and Trump make this argument less compelling. The focus on Biden’s perceived weakness may undermine the efforts of candidates like DeSantis, who aim to present a fresh face for the party.
This shift in Republican priorities has led voters to prioritize policy positions over electability, a trend that has implications for both Trump and his challengers. Despite these dynamics, DeSantis continues to position himself as the more electable candidate and directly addresses Trump’s candidacy, arguing that rehashing Trump’s past is detrimental to the party’s future.
As the first primary debate for 2024 unfolds, the Republican Party grapples with the intricate interplay between the perception of Biden’s weakness, the electability argument, and the influence of Trump in the race.