January 16, 2024 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
With each Trump win, Biden expects ‘a switch will turn on’
Disbelief has been Biden’s main obstacle. The solution began in Iowa.
There was some debate this morning about whether Donald Trump is weak or strong coming out of last night’s caucuses in Iowa. On the one hand, he won the state by 51 percent. The AP called the race by 7:30 in the evening. Some caucus-goers hadn’t cast their ballots yet. Altogether, this would suggest that his “stranglehold” on the Republicans is tighter than ever.
But on the other hand, only 110,000 people participated in the caucus this year compared to 187,000 in 2016, a drop of nearly 40 percent. Of that number, nearly half picked someone who is not Donald Trump. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis won more than 21 percent. Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley won nearly 20 percent. (Vivek Ramaswamy won nearly 8 percent before dropping out and endorsing Trump.)
Most people most of the time have not been paying attention to Donald Trump since he lost the 2020 election. That they have not been paying attention means that he looks stronger than he is. Now that he’s won the first Republican caucus, most people are going to start paying attention. And the more they do, the weaker Trump is going to seem.
Trump acts like he’s still the president. The rightwing media apparatus treats him like an incumbent. Yet the man lost half of the most extreme Republicans in the country. (There’s a video going round in which an Iowa supporter says America “needs a dictator.”) That Trump is winning isn’t the question. That he’s going to win the nomination isn’t the question. (He will.) The question is whether he’s going to be strong or weak going into the general election. So far, even early signs are mixed.
But this debate about Trump’s strength or weakness going into the general election needs to be seen in a larger context, which I think is this: most people most of the time have not been paying attention to Donald Trump since he lost the 2020 election. That they have not been paying attention means that he looks stronger than he is. Now that he’s won the first Republican caucus, most people are going to start paying attention. And the more they do, the weaker Trump is going to seem.
This may sound familiar. It’s a pet theory of mine. I first articulated it on December 15. I said that most people most of the time just don’t believe that Trump will be the GOP’s nominee. They can’t believe the Republicans would really choose a man who really did try to overturn a free and fair election, among other fascist things. I said that they won’t believe it until he starts winning early states in the GOP nomination.
Disbelief has been the main obstacle for Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. Last week, CNN reported on an internal document that confirmed my pet theory. “A majority of undecided voters simply do not seem to believe – at least not yet – that Donald Trump is likely to be the Republican presidential nominee,” the document said. How many people? According to an AP poll taken late last year, only a fifth of the public had been paying close attention to the 2024 election, while nearly half (47 percent) haven’t paid any or only a little attention to it. They won’t believe he’s going to be the nominee until it happens.
CNN: “According to the campaign’s internal research, this is the case for most of the undecided voters that the campaign is targeting – nearly three-in-four of them, senior Biden campaign officials told CNN. Those officials said one of the biggest reasons driving this is the simple fact that many voters are not paying close attention to the election, including the ins and outs of the GOP nomination process” (my italics).
“At some point in the near future,” the CNN report went on, “Biden campaign officials say they expect that a switch will turn on for many of these voters who are not yet convinced that Trump is likely to be on the ballot in the fall. As one senior official put it, a realization will hit: ‘Oh s—, it is an election between that guy and that guy.’”
Trump may look strong right now. (He won Iowa “in a landslide,” according to the AP.) He may continue to look strong as he wins the rest of the GOP primary contest. But even as he does, early signs of weakness are already showing themselves, and they will probably become more noticeable as time goes by – as the switch turns on.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.