Former President Donald Trump received a positive response from his supporters when he spoke at a CNN town hall on Wednesday. Trump mocked a woman who accused him of rape, defended his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and expressed pleasure in terminating Roe v. Wade, which drew the loudest applause from the audience. While these actions might hurt his chances with key groups of voters like women, suburbanites, and independents, it significantly highlights his ability to maintain a grip on conservative voters who will ultimately influence the GOP presidential nomination.
Trump’s rivals for the nomination will ultimately find it challenging to face the former president. During the town hall, Trump successfully converted his political disadvantages into jokes and applause-worthy points for the GOP base. The morning after the event, Republican critics of Trump openly admitted their inability to prevent him from clinching the nomination. “I don’t know how anybody beats him,” Senator Lindsey Graham explained on Fox News. Given his strong connection with conservative voters already, it seems Trump is in an excellent position to win the nomination.
Trump’s Republican opponents have been unsuccessful in their attempts to criticize his most controversial actions, indicating the challenge they will confront in their primary run-ins with the former president. Early public polling implies that Trump is the overwhelming frontrunner, with potential competitors afraid to alienate conservative voters by speaking up.
Notably, none of the possible GOP candidates in the 2024 presidential race have focused on Trump’s legal difficulties, despite a jury this week holding him responsible for sexual assault and defamation against an advice columnist, E. Jean Carroll. There was little reaction to the verdict from Trump’s Republican rivals. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who intends to challenge Trump in the 2024 Republican primary, appeared to dismiss any emphasis on the sexual assault verdict in a recent NBC interview, claiming it is a distraction from important issues such as the economy and public safety.
When questioned if he was comfortable having someone liable for sexual assault as president, Pence replied, “I would tell you in my four and a half years serving alongside the president, I never heard or observed behavior of that nature.” This approach is also echoed in events such as the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, with Trump’s opponents unwilling to criticize or comment on the violence for fear of harming their prospects with conservative voters.
Despite facing peril on various fronts, former President Trump’s hold on the Republican Party remains strong, as he continues to enjoy support from the conservative base and is the leading candidate for the GOP nomination. Republican leaders recognize that one point of vulnerability for Trump could be his electability. Despite Trump’s popularity with the conservative base, there are concerns among the broader electorate, particularly women, independents, and college-educated suburban voters, who consider Trump and his politics toxic.
Although this has been the consensus view among party leaders, this has changed in recent weeks, with the Republican Party rallying behind Trump over new legal problems. Though former Vice President Pence has criticized Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Republican presidential candidates have been mostly quiet on his legal troubles. While Trump’s support among conservative voters remains strong, his unpopularity among moderates and independents could be his Achilles heel in the presidential race.
Despite the potential electability concerns that various Republicans have raised about Former President Trump and his chances of winning the 2024 presidential election, it is unclear whether these concerns alone will be sufficient to dislodge him from his position as the frontrunner in the Republican primary. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has recently criticized Trump and released a memo warning of the disastrous implications for the Republican Party if Trump were to become its nominee.
According to Chris Wilson, head of data for the “Never Back Down” PAC, Trump’s nomination could result in ideological extremism that would alienate non-Republicans and lead to a loss of feasible senate and house seats in a general election. Nonetheless, Trump continues to maintain his strong standing with the Republican base. In contrast, former Democratic President Joe Biden, who is eager for a rematch, has launched a political attack against Trump, releasing a video in response to his remarks during the CNN town hall, which described Jan. 6 as a “beautiful day.”
While some Republicans, such as former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former Representative Liz Cheney have attempted to cast Trump in a negative light, it remains uncertain if these efforts will be enough to hurt his chances of winning the Republican nomination.
Regardless, Trump appears unconcerned by potential political liabilities ahead of 2024, even suggesting that he may pardon many of his supporters who were convicted of criminal charges after the deadly Capitol insurrection. “Many of them are just great people”, said Trump.