The Donald Trump election odds were high before the midterms. High inflation with rising interest rates made groceries more expensive and borrowing funds for homes and school more difficult. The challenging economy seemed to doom Democratic chances of holding both chambers of Congress. Historical midterm losses pointed to a Republican Congress.
Instead, Democrats held the Senate and only lost the House of Representatives.
Much of the blame for Republican losses fell on Donald Trump. His candidates did well in their primaries but failed in the midterms. Trump’s candidates parroted lies about how the 2020 election was stolen. Candidates who cast doubt on whether they would certify legally cast Democratic ballots votes alienated key voters in close races.
While this has been viewed as a victory for democracy, it was a close margin. Arizona gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, believes Joe Biden’s victory was manufactured by manipulated vote counts. Lake also believes that the only legitimate outcome of the 2024 presidential election will be a Trump victory. She still has not conceded the election she lost.
Lake only lost her election by about 17,000 votes in an election where over 2.5 million people voted. A difference of 0.6% is not a resounding endorsement of democracy. Election denial is not a dealbreaker for many voters when the alternative choice is a Democrat. That’s a dangerous trend to be aware of going into 2024.
Anti-Trump sentiment was the dealbreaker in close elections like these. It has led Republican elites to seek a candidate who shares Trump’s reactionary trollish instincts but has the polish and rhetorical skills to rally the MAGA base, appeal to moderates and Independents, and win elections.
Ron DeSantis Election Odds
On Nov. 7, PredictIt’s 2024 Republican presidential nominee market priced Trump at 45 cents. Ron DeSantis was at 28 cents. On Nov. 8, Trump dropped to 33 cents, and DeSantis rose to 38 cents. The midterms were viewed as a repudiation of Donald Trump, and DeSantis is best positioned to succeed Trump.
However, MAGA proposals, like pushing anti-mask policies or shipping migrants to liberal areas under false pretenses, aren’t enough for DeSantis to overtake Trump.
Presidential historian, Allan Lichtman, points out that state governors don’t scale well to the national level. The intense scrutiny and stressors of a presidential campaign can reveal faults that are more easily covered at the state level. Lichtman lists Jeb Bush and Jay Inslee as two 2016 presidential candidates who couldn’t break out as serious candidates.
Rick Perry is another good example.
Rick Perry & The National Spotlight
As Texas Governor, Perry oversaw an expansion of both fossil fuel and wind energy. In 2016, the Texas Tribune reported that Texas was the “No. 1 U.S. producer of both natural gas and wind energy.” President Trump chose Perry to become Secretary of Energy and lifted Perry to the national stage.
Less than a year into his position, a story circulated where Perry seemed to imply that fossil fuels would prevent sexual assault. That story came from this quote:
“But also from the standpoint of sexual assault, when the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts,” Perry said. “So from the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that. I happen to think it’s going to play a positive role.”
The Energy Department’s spokesperson had to release a statement clarifying that Secretary Perry was talking about how improved lighting could ward off sexual predators in remote areas, a point made to Perry by an African citizen who approached him during an energy conference in Cape Town, South Africa.
Perry’s flippant comments about the causal link between good lighting and sexual violence prevention was bad enough. But Perry also made those comments in the wake of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual violence. It was one of many examples that showed how unsuccessful Perry was in navigating the media environment of a national political figure.
As Secretary of Energy, Perry couldn’t improve perceptions of his gravitas to launch a serious presidential bid. He certainly didn’t make up for forgetting the name of the Department of Energy in his 2011 presidential debate.
Uncertainty About Trump Election Odds
While governors can flame out of presidential races, some can make the leap from the governor’s mansion to the White House.
Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both rose from state governor to President. Both men were rising stars in their parties who had considered presidential runs before their chosen years. Both had begun building national profiles entire presidential terms before choosing to run. By the time they ran, neither was a surprise and both handily won their primaries.
DeSantis is a recent star who may not be able to challenge Trump. Despite low PredictIt prices, Trump still has the support of a plurality of the Republican base. Even if DeSantis becomes the nominee, Trump could launch a third-party bid. That could split the Republican vote and hand the White House to the Democrats.
While DeSantis is the new shiny object of the Republican Party, Lichtman was right to advise caution. Until DeSantis takes the national stage, the public knows almost nothing about his supposed advantages over Donald Trump. Trump election odds don’t seem to reflect this uncertainty.