Primary elections can create intra-party divisions that, in the moment, seem impossible to heal. In 2008, a bloc of Hillary Clinton supporters started the PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) movement as a threat to never back Barack Obama after that bruising primary. Bernie Sanders’ supporters vowed to never support Clinton eight years later. In 2016, Trump himself faced pushback to his nomination all the way up to the convention floor.
But 2024 is different. Trump is not making his pitch to voters as a first time candidate. He is a known quantity who is being judged by the electorate not for the conduct of his current campaign so much as his time in office. And that, political veterans warn, makes it much harder for him to win back the people he’s alienated, including those once willing to vote Republican.
The data supports the idea that there are problems ahead for the former president. Even before the Iowa survey, a
New York Times/Siena College poll found that — including independents who say they lean toward one party over the other — Biden had slightly more support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (91 percent) than Trump did among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (86 percent).
That’s far from a majority of Republicans preparing to pass on Trump in November. But in a close election, it could be enough to tip the scales for Democrats. At a minimum, it is a major liability for the GOP should the party, as expected, push Trump through as its nominee.
“It would be a massively difficult hill to climb, without a doubt,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Haley endorser, told reporters of the party’s chances of winning New Hampshire in the general election with Trump on top of the ticket, when asked by POLITICO. “And he’s already proven that. He’s lost before and according to the polls he will lose even bigger this time.”
Sean Van Anglen, a prominent and early Trump supporter in the state who now plans to vote for Haley on Tuesday, said if Trump becomes the nominee, he might have to blank that line on his November ballot.
“I don’t think I can vote for Trump,” he said. “I vote in every election, I’ve never left a box blank. And I might have to this time.”
That sentiment was not uncommon among Republicans here this week, especially among voters who came out to see Haley, the former U.N. ambassador.
“I liked him. But he just scares me now. Everybody that has ever worked for him is not any more,” said Lisa Tracy, of Salem. If it came down to Biden versus Trump, she said, “I would go with Biden.”
These problems are not entirely unique to Republicans. Biden himself is grappling with a Democratic Party where a portion of voters have soured on him and are either leaning towards or threatening to vote for a third party candidate or stay home in November.
“We need to keep showing that it can’t just be two parties that no one fully agrees with,” said Michelle Greene, a 34-year-old registered independent from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who saw Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who is challenging the president in a primary, in Hampton on Sunday.
Greene said it’s “definitely a concern” that a third-party candidate might siphon off votes from Biden in November. But she also wasn’t sure if she’d vote for Biden again, after backing him in 2020, in a head-to-head Biden-Trump rematch, adding that she “morally can’t support the lesser of two evils.”