(LifeSiteNews) – In the wake of the results of the 2022 midterm elections, which sorely disappointed conservatives, most concluded that Trump’s extensive involvement in selecting and endorsing candidates hurt the Republican Party. Statistical analyses show that, in 2022, Trump’s endorsement cost candidates between 5% and 7% in competitive races. That gap has persisted in polls, with Trump’s likely primary opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, running about 6% ahead of Trump. It is due to Trump’s very low – under 40% – favorability ranking, and his extremely high 57% unfavorable rating (including 50% who have a very unfavorable view).
For his part, Trump blames Republicans’ poor 2022 midterm performance on social conservatives. In a January 1 Truth Social post, Trump stated: “It wasn’t my fault that the Republicans didn’t live up to expectations in the MidTerms. . . It was the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters. Also, the people that pushed so hard, for decades, against abortion, got their wish from the U.S. Supreme Court, & just plain disappeared, not to be seen again.”
Trump’s strategy of blaming conservatives for Republicans’ electoral woes – and apparently plotting his own leftward shift – has intensified in the past few weeks. In an April 20 Washington Post article, Trump’s campaign ruled out any federal restrictions on abortion – a position immediately blasted by Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America as “unacceptable.”
It’s not just pro-life issues. Trump has zealously taken the side of Walt Disney in its fight with DeSantis over DeSantis’s bill to allow only “age appropriate” sex education for elementary school students. Disney opposed that bill, advocating that teachers should be able to craft sexually explicit lesson plans for young children. In response, DeSantis has sought to revoke Disney’s state privileges.
In that fight, Trump is a loud ally of Disney. “DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” he wrote on Truth Social. “This is all so unnecessary, a political STUNT!” Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway echoed her boss, declaring that DeSantis “spends way too much time on the culture wars, and that begins with Disney and includes many other things.” Trump takes campaign contributions from Disney, explaining at least some of his support for the media conglomerate.
In keeping with Trump’s leftward shift, his son, Donald Trump Jr., recently announced, “I’m fairly liberal on the issue” of transgenderism. He called for ending the boycott of Bud Light over its hiring of transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney saying, “I’m not, though, for destroying an American, an iconic company for something like this.”
Trump’s leftward shift is not just confined to culture war issues. In a recent attack on Florida as “tumbl[ing] into complete and total delinquency and destruction,” Trump criticized DeSantis for not constructing enough public housing, citing a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a far-left group. He attacked DeSantis for allowing home property values to rise, for not enacting protections against “elder abuse,” and for not raising teacher pay. He cited a report from Disney-owned ESPN calling Florida “the worse place in the country to die,” due to having (among other things) too few “green burial options.” This points to a large-scale leftward shift on economic issues. All in a desperate bid to win the presidency despite having a 50% “strong disapproval” ranking.
Trump’s strategy of moving sharply to the left is unlikely to win a general election, given his baked-in disapproval among Democrats and Independent voters. Indeed, Democrats freely admit that Trump is the only thing holding their coalition together. Biden advisors are confident that they can beat him in 2024. And if the primary is close, Democrats’ dark money groups will probably start spending for Trump. Democrats tried this strategy of backing Trump-endorsed candidates in their primaries, and it paid big dividends. Indeed, three-in-four voters who view both Trump and President Joe Biden unfavorably plan to vote for Biden. In short, Trump is very likely to lose again in 2024. DeSantis, by contrast, leads Biden in most polls.
Some of Trump’s biggest fans are nonetheless embracing Trump’s leftward shift as a positive development that can move the Republican Party permanently leftward on social issues. Thus, the 2024 primary is shaping up to be a referendum on the Republicans’ approach to the culture war. Is Trump right, and Republicans should give up on cultural issues in an (almost certainly doomed) effort to restore Trump to the White House? Or does DeSantis offer a path forward that would allow for Republicans to both push back against woke capital and win the presidency? This primary will be a referendum on those two strategies.