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The GOP’s quiet winning streak

Thought Leader: Josh Kraushaar
April 30, 2023
Source: Axios
Written by: Josh Kraushaar

It’s easy to miss the big political picture in a week in which President Biden announced his re-election campaign and Republicans sound increasingly resigned to Donald Trump repeating as the GOP’s presidential nominee.

Yes, but: Zoom out from the most eye-catching headlines, and Republicans showed clear signs of momentum — from the GOP’s surprising unity on Capitol Hill to Senate Republicans’ recruitment success to polls showing Trump running competitively against Biden.

Driving the news: Republicans benefited from three big developments this week:

  • Against expectations, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy held his unwieldy caucus together for legislation that would raise the debt ceiling and cut federal spending. By holding the party line, he tests the White House’s position not to negotiate over the debt ceiling.
  • Senate Republicans landed an A-list recruit, popular West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, to run against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Early polling shows Justice leading Manchin in a pivotal race for Republican efforts to take back the Senate majority. Justice will still need to win a contested GOP primary against Rep. Alex Mooney to get to the general election.
  • Manchin’s statement reacting to the governor’s announcement fueled speculation that he would retire or pursue a third-party presidential campaign. “Make no mistake, I will win any race I enter,” Manchin said.

By the numbers: Meanwhile, the latest wave of national polls show a razor-tight rematch between Biden and Trump — most within the margin of error. On average, Biden leads Trump by 1.4 points, according to the FiveThirtyEight average.

  • Last week’s Wall Street Journal poll found Biden only up by three. A new Emerson poll pegs Biden’s lead at just one point. This week’s Morning Consult’s tracking poll pegged Biden’s edge at two.
  • The data showing a competitive rematch makes it harder for Republicans to argue that Trump is unelectable — even if he performs a bit worse than other Republicans in head-to-head ballot tests.
  • A new NBC poll found that Biden would trail a generic Republican by six points (47%-41%), a weak position for an incumbent. Gallup’s new survey found Biden’s approval down to 37% amid fresh economic concerns — the lowest at any point in his presidency.

Reality check: A small Biden popular vote advantage doesn’t necessarily translate into victory. Biden defeated Trump by 4.4% in 2020 but narrowly won in three battleground states that made the difference in the Electoral College (Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona).

What they’re saying: Nate Cohn, the New York Times’ election guru, wrote this week: “The modest Biden lead in national polls today wouldn’t be enough for him to secure re-election.” He asked: “If Mr. Trump is doomed, why isn’t he getting trounced in the polls?”

The bottom line: On all fronts, the Republican Party’s biggest enemy is itself. The party’s right wing could still disrupt the GOP’s best-laid plans, as could Trump’s intensifying legal troubles.

  • McCarthy’s success in unifying his caucus could be short-lived if Republicans won’t agree on the concessions necessary to reach a favorable deal with Biden.
  • The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s recruitment success in West Virginia (and elsewhere) won’t matter until it can get its favored candidates through contested primaries.
  • For all of Biden’s vulnerabilities, he’s been tacking to the political middle while potential opponents like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — often tagged as a more electable Republican than Trump — has been championing policies favored by the far-right.

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