Former President Trump isn’t joining his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination on the stage next week at the third GOP primary debate.
The former president – who skipped out on the first two debates and who’s holding a simultaneous rally just a few miles from the where the showdown’s being held in Miami, Florida – doesn’t have to.
With the clock ticking and just eleven weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses kick off the 2024 GOP presidential nominating calendar, Trump remains leagues ahead of his challengers in the latest national polling and crucial early state surveys, and enjoys a dominating advantage in the fundraising fight.
The latest evidence – a new and anticipated poll in Iowa this week that indicates the former president with a commanding 27-point lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who are tied for a very distant second place.
‘The fundamentals of this race haven’t changed from the very beginning. We’ve been seeing people rise and fall in the second and third place positions, but they’re dozens of points behind,’ seasoned Republican strategist and presidential campaign veteran Ryan Williams said.
Trump, who’s making his third straight White House run, saw his lead expand over the spring and summer as he made history as the first former or current president in American history to be indicted for a crime. Trump’s four indictments – including in federal court in Washington D.C. and in Fulton County court in Georgia on charges he tried to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss – have only fueled his support among Republican voters.
‘Nothing Trump has said changed that. None of the indictments has changed that. There doesn’t appear to be anything between now and when the voting starts that could change the trajectory of the race,’ Williams emphasized.
Need more proof?
Then check out this past weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition leadership summit in Las Vegas, Nevada, which attracted Trump and all the other major GOP White House hopefuls. It was just the second time this cycle that the former president joined his 2024 rivals on the same stage at the same event.
It could have been a rough appearance for Trump, in the wake of his controversial comments earlier this month criticizing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and describing Hezbollah as ‘very smart.’ The former president’s remarks came just days after 1,400 Israelis were killed in sneak assault by Hamas, the deadliest attack on the Jewish State in a half century.
But his rivals mostly avoided taking shots at Trump, who appeared to be the biggest winner of the weekend, as he grabbed the most sustained applause from the large crowd of influential Republican leaders, donors, and activists.
And minutes before Trump took to the stage, former Vice President Mike Pence – facing lackluster fundraising struggling to qualify for next week’s debate – suspended his Republican White House campaign.
As he bowed out, Pence made a final appeal for the GOP to return to its conservative roots and resist what he’s repeatedly called the ‘siren song of populism’ – a message that doesn’t appear to be resonating in a Republican Party dramatically reshaped by his two-two running mate.
Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire tend to be late deciders.
Popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, a vocal Trump critic, told Fox News last week that ‘folks won’t make their decision who they’re voting for till maybe late December, early January. So still plenty of time to actually earn those votes.’
Longtime New Hampshire based Republican strategist Jim Merrill said ‘I’m not ready to say it’s a done deal yet.’
But he added ‘it’s getting close.’
Looking ahead, Merrill said ‘I think realistically the campaigns who are on the outside looking in right now have the next month to figure strategically whether they have a viable path forward. If they don’t, then the need to think long and hard about moving on.’
‘The fat lady isn’t singing yet, but she’s clearing her throat,’ emphasized Merrill, who’s a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns.
Nicole Schlinger, a longtime Iowa based conservative strategist who’s well-connected with evangelical groups, pointed to the rise this autumn of Haley’s poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, which holds the first primary and votes second in the Republican nominating calendar, as well as her home state, which holds the first southern contest. Haley has leapfrogged DeSantis for second place in many of the recent surveys.
‘I think there are some things brewing under the surface, that if someone can break out with some momentum could be interesting,’ she offered.
But Schlinger added ‘that being said, if the race stays as it is today, I think we know who our nominee going to be.’
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