A Time for ‘Cold, Calculating, Unimpassioned Reason’

Startling polls are beginning to emerge from the hustings, where CNN reckons Governor Haley is the only Republican who, in a hypothetical matchup, is preferred over President Biden.

AP/Charles Krupa, file
Ambassador Nikki Haley on May 24, 2023, at Bedford, New Hampshire. AP/Charles Krupa, file

One explanation for Governor Haley’s recent jump in the GOP primary polls is the common sense of the ex-envoy to the UN in respect of President Trump’s electability. At the Milwaukee debate she pointed out that “three quarters of Americans don’t want a rematch between Trump and Biden.” She urged Republicans “to face the fact that Trump is the most disliked politician in America” and declared, “We can’t win a general election that way.”

It’s not our intention here to endorse President Trump or Ms. Haley. It is but to observe the sentiments that are surfacing in recent polls. CNN finds that, among the GOP field, only Mrs. Haley is preferred over President Biden in a hypothetical matchup. Some 49 percent would back Mrs. Haley, CNN reports, versus 43 percent for Mr. Biden. The other GOP candidates, including Mr. Trump, fell within the poll’s margin of error against Mr. Biden.

Mrs. Haley’s strong showing among a politically representative pool of voters in the CNN survey contrasts with her standing in polling of likely Republican primary voters. There Mr. Trump has a commanding lead over his rivals, with support just over 53 percent, according to an average of polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight. In second place is Governor DeSantis with nearly 16 percent. Ms. Haley trails with just 6.5 percent support among GOP voters.

This discrepancy between the national electorate and Republican voters suggests that GOP voters — for the moment, at least — are putting aside the question of electability as they weigh the candidates. This is borne out by polling from NBC News showing that 56 percent of GOP primary voters say “it’s more important for their party’s presidential nominee to come closest to their views on the issues,” while 39 percent “prioritize beating Biden.”

NBC News cautions that this sentiment could change for GOP voters. It points to polls of the Democratic primary voters in the 2020 cycle. Although in a July 2019 poll “a slim majority of Democrats wanted their nominee to be closest to their views on issues,” NBC observes, their views shifted by February 2020. Then a poll showed that “a majority preferred a nominee with the best chance to defeat then-President Donald Trump.”

That shift likely spurred Mr. Biden’s campaign turnaround. Within the span of just a few days in March 2020, Mr. Biden won 11 votes  after what CNN called “lame finishes in the first three nominating contests.” The network’s Van Jones quipped that “we have seen, in that 72-hour period, Joe Biden go from being a joke to a juggernaut.” FiveThirtyEight said “a big part of Biden’s appeal was the notion that he was best positioned to defeat Trump.”

Then again, too, primary voters aren’t always the best judge of electability. In 2004, Democrats were so eager to oust President George W. Bush from the White House that they were willing to overlook Senator Kerry’s flaws. By February 2004, William Saletan wrote, Mr. Kerry had sewn up the Democratic nomination “not because voters agree with him on the issues,” but because primary “voters think he’s the candidate most likely to beat President Bush.”

The sway Mr. Trump has over the GOP suggests that electability may continue to be swept aside. It calls to mind the hold over the Democrats of “The Great Commoner,” William Jennings Bryan, more than a century ago. Unlike Mr. Trump, the Boy Orator of the Platte failed in 1896 in his first run for the White House. He had a Biden-type view of inflation. He lost and got the party to back him in two more presidential campaigns, only to lose them, too.

Which brings us back to Ambassador Haley. From the moment she stepped before the press at the UN, these columns marked her as a star. Yet we don’t mind saying that we were startled by that CNN poll. One is advised against making too much of a single poll (or, for that matter, all of them). We take all this a moment to keep one’s head. Or, as the first Republican president* called it, a time for “reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason.”


* A certain A. Lincoln.

The New York Sun

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