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Tipsheet

Are Die-Hard Trump Supporters Looking to Turn the Page?

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Salena Zito has tracked the neo-populist wave brewing after the Tea Party struck it hot in 2010. The Tea Party moment is long gone, though that’s to be expected. Waves like that usually die out after a couple of election cycles, but what comes after is the interesting part. Zito, a Western Pennsylvania native, noted a new movement was brewing from the vestiges of the Tea Party, one that could go either way regarding political allegiances. They were up for grabs for either party, though Democrats had begun transforming into an urban-based, white, wealthy, and college-educated aristocracy. That is not what these folks were looking for to represent them in Washington.

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In 2016, she hopped into her jeep and traversed across middle America, speaking to numerous voters in bars and diners to give the ‘abandoned’ class a voice. She wasn’t alone. Chris Arnade, a former stock trader, did the same. Both came to the same conclusion: these voters felt deserted, impatient that their needs were ignored by a snobby political class that hogged the front seats. Arnade described these voters in terms of movie theater placement, with the back row, rural America, being tired of exploitation from the VIP seats. 

Zito was mocked by the liberal media until her dispatches from Rust Belt America ended with a Trump win in one of the greatest political upsets in modern political history. The press then scrambled to catch up doing what she had been doing for months, even writing a book, The Great Revolt, on the rise of this voter bloc. And yes, they’re not die-hard Republicans. They can and have voted for Democrats. If Democrats checked their smug dispositions, discussed job creation, and promoted better trade deals—the 2016 race might have been different. These voters also number in the tens of millions. White working-class votes matter: slight deviations can wreck a presidential race. Trump learned that in 2020. 

Her latest piece on Townhall could be viewed as a warning sign: PA voters are not too giddy about a third Trump run, with many looking to DeSantis to take up the mantle: 

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The Bucks County businessman and GOP committeeman has fiercely defended former President Donald Trump in editorials, interviews with reporters and conversations with anyone within earshot. He voted for Trump twice and believed he was the right president at the right time. 

However, eight years after the New York businessman and entertainer came down the escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015, Tems said he would move on in next year's Pennsylvania primary. He plans to vote instead for Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., for the Republican nomination for president. 

"Why? Well, because DeSantis has done a brilliant job in Florida. He took a tiny little victory the first time, and he turned that state dark red by implementing good conservative policies. He brought in the right kind of people, and he turned that state from being purple, or occasionally blue, to very red," Tems said.

Tems said what Trump did brilliantly was recognize the public was unhappy with the governing class. But "DeSantis knows that to win, you have to build coalitions, and that is what he did," Tems said. "He spent four years governing conservatively and building a coalition that not only gave him a win last November, it had coattails for all Republican candidates." 

[…] 

Carol Sides of Lycoming County was torn. "It's just that I like both of them," she said. "I like my association with Trump and with his family. They were fun years, to say the least. But then, with DeSantis coming up and reading everything that he's doing for Florida. I mean, he's unbelievable for his age and his background. I think that he did a wonderful job there, and he is a gentleman beyond words, so I am undecided," said Sides, who sits on the local county Republican committee. 

She admitted she is weary of the Trump drama. 

Huntingdon County Republican Committee Chairman Arnie McClure said bluntly that he's done with Trump. "I'd really like to move on from the drama, and I think that DeSantis gives us Trump policies without the drama," he said. 

McClure ran a poll during the county's annual Lincoln Day Dinner two weeks ago at the height of Trump's indictment sympathy. The former president received 112 votes, whereas DeSantis received 69. "In a county where 80% of the vote went to Trump, 80%, and DeSantis hasn't even started running for office yet, those are pretty good numbers for the Florida governor," McClure said. 

McClure can't wait to run the poll once DeSantis is actually in the race.

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First, I can vote for either of these guys as well. Second, it’s way too early to discern what base strength will be once the primary duel is over, if there is one. I will bet heavily that the base would rally if Trump emerges on top. The Tea Party was not a fan of Mitt Romney but got behind him once he got the delegates. The same rule should apply here. DeSantis hasn’t declared, and while his record as governor is solid—there are questions about whether he’s ready for primetime. He’s not exactly Mr. Charisma. It’s a gamble. We know voters like Trump’s agenda, but his personality demerits overwhelm the former regarding selling the candidate. With DeSantis, he has a great record as a conservative governor, but his personality is a major question mark. Is he ready for primetime? Right now, Trump has only increased his favorability with GOP voters since the indictment news broke. DeSantis’ donor base is starting to evaporate, and there is an argument that maybe Ron shouldn’t even jump into the race if he’s only going to get pummeled due to Trump’s advantage. 

Yet, if folks are getting anxious about Trump from middle America, and he wins the nomination, the general could be dead on arrival. A defection from white working-class voters by just three percentage points could end Trump on Election Day. It happened in 2020. It happened in 2012; Romney would’ve beaten Obama if he had won just three-to-four points more with white voters. 

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Granted, we can sidestep this primary debate if DeSantis opts not to run and focus on trying to mend the fences with voters well ahead of Election Day, and this is going to take some serious heavy lifting which brings us to another issue with the Trump 2024 effort: who is going to be part of this operation. 

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