Polls show Donald Trump leading Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his closest rival in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, by about 40 points. One might assume that this would result in the former president’s Republican rivals attacking him in an attempt to erode that support, which sits at over 50% of the primary vote.
But most of his opponents seem reluctant, if not completely unwilling, to do so.
A look at the numbers reveals why. The popularity of those who have followed him has suffered among Republican voters, while those who rose in the primaries either largely do not mention Trump or praise him.
You don’t have to look further than former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to understand what happens when a Republican candidate is extremely critical of the former president. Christie sets records for intra-party unpopularity.
His net popularity rating in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll is minus 44 points among Republicans. A staggering 61% of Republican voters have a negative opinion of him.
In fact, Christie has become rather unpopular over the course of the presidential campaign.
As far as I can tell, he appears to have the lowest net popularity rating at this point in the cycle of all Republicans running for president since at least 1980.
That doesn’t mean Christie doesn’t have support within the Republican Party. A July New York Times/Siena College poll illustrates the point well.
The former New Jersey governor led the Republican field (with 22%) among the likely Republican primary voters to vote for Joe Biden in 2020. The problem is that this group makes up less than 10% of the Republican primary electorate. Of the remaining roughly 90 percent, Christie received only about 1 percent support.
Christie isn’t alone in having poor popularity ratings among Republican presidential candidates who are perceived as anti-Trump.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has urged the GOP to break away from Trump, was the only presidential candidate during the first GOP debate last week not to raise his hand when candidates on stage were asked if they would support the former president as a presidential party candidate, even if he was convicted in court. (Christie raised his hand, but later waved his finger and said Trump’s behavior should not be normalized. The former president skipped the Milwaukee debate.)
According to Quinnipiac, most Republicans (65%) had not heard enough about Hutchinson before the debate to form an opinion. Those who had an opinion gave it a more than 3 to 1 negative rating (26% negative to 8% positive, a net positivity score of minus 18 points).
Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, another Trump critic, didn’t come up for debate, and the vast majority of Republicans (83%) haven’t heard enough of him to form an opinion. Among those who did, Hurd has a similar net likeability rating as Hutchinson — 4% rated him positively and 11% rated him negatively. That’s not shocking considering Hurd signaled he wouldn’t support Trump if the former president were the nominee.
Other survey data confirms the dilemma facing Christie, Hutchinson and Hurd. Aside from the fact that around 80% of his party view Trump consistently positively — and is viewed as “very positively” by more than 50% — most Republicans simply don’t want Republicans to move against Trump.
A CBS News/YouGov poll ahead of the GOP debate found that 91% of likely Republican primary voters wanted candidates onstage to make their own arguments for the GOP nomination. Only 9% wanted them to take action against Trump.
That 91% figure makes it clear why South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is reluctant to attack fellow Republicans. He is considered a kind of lucky warrior.
As a result, Scott has risen in the polls and is consistently third in Iowa. His net popularity rating among Republicans in the most recent statewide Quinnipiac poll was up 41 points, with 49% favorable and 8% negative.
Along with Trump and DeSantis, Scott was one of the rare Republicans to break through.
The other Republican who did this was Vivek Ramaswamy. The Ohio businessman has been relentless in his praise of Trump, even pledging to pardon the former president if elected to the White House if Trump is convicted of a crime in federal court.
Ramaswamy was a key target of last week’s debate. That makes sense when you consider that he’s the third-best nationally on average.
His net positivity score was a plus 30 in the Quinnipiac poll. 39 percent of Republicans had a positive opinion of him, only 51 percent could not even form an opinion.
Of course, the ultimate question when it comes to taking action against Trump is perhaps best seen in the CBS News poll. The former president’s supporters were asked about the truthfulness of what they hear from others. The vast majority of them (71%) believed what Trump was telling them was true – a higher percentage than those who said the same about friends and family (63%).
Given that Trump commands the majority of GOP votes, Republicans, who are viewed as too negative toward him, are unlikely to stand a chance in the primary.
This poses a conundrum for Trump’s Republican rivals that even Harry Houdini would find difficult to solve: How to drain Trump’s support without giving the impression that he’s trying to bring him down?