Allies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis want Republicans watching Donald Trump from home tonight to remember that the former president is a loser. Ahead of his return to CNN, they warn that nominating Trump a third time won’t just cost the GOP the White House. It could hand Congress to Democrats.
That is the argument from Never Back Down, the pro-DeSantis super PAC launched by former senior administration official Ken Cuccinelli and chaired by former Trump ally Adam Laxalt. In a polling memo shared exclusively with RealClearPolitics ahead of the Trump CNN townhall, they point to the last three election cycles to make the case that Trump is a net drag on the ticket.
The topline from WPA pollster Chris Wilson: “The data suggest that if Trump were to become the 2024 nominee, he will likely cost the GOP control of the House and multiple winnable seats in the Senate.”
It is a somber warning to the right ahead of a what promises to be an entertaining, no-holds barred brawl on the cable network the former president publicly says he hates the most. Trump knows how to make good television, Cuccinelli told RCP, predicting that there would be “plenty of entertainment value” when his former boss sits down with CNN in prime time, “but it comes with losses across the board. And he talks about coattails, he has negative coattails.”
Controversy has always been a feature of the Trump show. For the right, the entertainment value is unmistakable when he “owns the libs,” castigating Democrats and liberal journalists alike. But Cuccinelli likens that to an unhealthy binge, warning that while “it is fun to have the buzz, the hangover isn’t so great.” Viral moments in prime time, he warned, won’t comfort conservatives after an election that hands Democrats unified control of government: “The potential for more harm here is enormous.”
Jason Miller, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, dismissed that argument and suggested that the governor, who hasn’t yet declared a presidential bid, was too scared to make his own case in prime time. “Is this what candidates who are too chicken to do nationally broadcast town halls do with their time?” Miller asked before pointing RCP to a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey that showed Trump leading Biden, 44% to 38%, compared to DeSantis leading Biden, 42% to 27%.
Primary voters will hear plenty about electability once the race begins in earnest, and many are likely already familiar with warnings about the down ballot detriment of Trump. In the memo, Wilson points to analysis of the 2018 and 2022 midterms that shows how the former president’s endorsement had “a meaningful negative effect” in both of those contests by mobilizing “Democratic donors and voters” and reducing “general support for Republican congressional candidates.”
But the pollster and pro-DeSantis super PAC go farther. Never Back Down identifies 18 incumbent House Republicans in the memo who would likely lose, according to their analysis, if they run for reelection alongside Trump in 2024.
Wilson points to April studies by Public Opinions Strategies that showed a Trump nomination reducing the standing of a generic Republican congressional nominee by 10 points in Arizona and 8 points in Georgia. If that trend holds, applying those numbers to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index yields significant GOP losses that are enough to set Biden up with healthy majorities in the House and Senate going into a second term.
The list of Republican incumbents “likely to lose if Trump is on the ballot” includes Michigan Rep. John James, who narrowly won a congressional district that has been solidly Republican for at least two decades, and Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, who served as the former president’s interior secretary.
With Trump at the head of the Republican party again, Wilson reports that control of the Senate could be out of reach, with GOP candidates having to overcome an estimated 10-point swing for Democrats in battleground states like Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Some conservatives have blamed Trump for focusing on himself and his grievances at the expense of Republicans. He was still litigating the last general election, for instance, rather than rallying the base to support former Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in the Georgia runoff. Had Democrat Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona not balked at changing the filibuster rules in the Senate, Cuccinelli said Biden would’ve had a free hand to implement even more of his agenda.
“But for those Democrats, Trump’s damage would have been permanent and far-reaching to a degree that it hasn’t even reached yet,” he said, arguing that Trump made possible Biden’s legislative success. “This was all self-inflicted by one person.”
Deny Trump the nomination for a third time, Cuccinelli insisted, make DeSantis the face of the Republican party instead, and the GOP has a banner year.
“No one else running, or looking at running, for president has a performance like DeSantis in supporting his team. No one can demonstrate that, or even make a case that they can perform that well,” Cuccinelli said of the governor’s reelection and Florida Republicans’ dominance in Florida. “He went from narrow legislative control to blow-out control.”
“If he even came close to replicating that at the national level,” he concluded, “it is a blow-out year in 2024 for Republicans at every level of government.”