After the first Republican primary debate, not much has changed: Donald Trump is still the perceived primary frontrunner. Ron DeSantis is in second place, with the potential to move up.

Sure, Vivek Ramaswamy got himself some name recognition, which he sorely lacks and will help him in garbage online polls, but a significant post-debate bounce hasn’t materialized for him.However, a lane has emerged for Trump alternatives, a necessity for those who recognize the cold, hard truth that Donald Trump cannot win a general election. The former president’s decision to skip the debate (and likely future ones) certainly doesn’t hurt with his core base. There is little—if anything—that can change the mind of a Trump zealot. But there is more, much more, to the American electorate and even the Republican electorate than the very noisy, but very small, Trump base.

For the record, I have nothing against Trump or his base, but I am against inevitable losing with Trump—again. I supported Trump and his policies in 2016 and 2020, and if Trump actually wins the primary, I’ll vote for him again, unlike the “Trump-only” cultists.

But I actually want to win in 2024, and Trump can’t. According to the latest cutting-edge “anti-polling” data analysis from Iowa, which measures actual public sentiment (unlike the garbage of traditional polling), Trump can claim 31 percent of likely Iowa Republican caucus voters, while 34 percent are flat-out against him and fully 35 percent are neutral—but, if you’re not for Trump already, you’re never going to be.

The Iowa numbers reveal Trump’s longtime Achilles heel: He simply cannot appeal to voters outside the Trump base—not anymore. Swing voters have resoundingly abandoned the former president, locking him into a loud, but ultimately limited, base of supporters that may eke out a plurality win in a primary. But that isn’t nearly enough to sway a general election.

Trump will always have a grip on his loyal base, but it’s a ceiling, not a floor. There is no room for growth when most swing voters (and many former Trump voters) are just done with him. The supposed solution—that millions upon millions of Biden voters will suddenly realize they were wrong, and vote Trump—is as stupid as it sounds.

While DeSantis’ debate performance was most likely not enough to sway loyal Trump voters, swing voters had a different take. According to the monitoring of more than 40,000 swing voters—and what they actually say when they aren’t being polled (anti-polling)—they saw a candidate who turned in a solid, steady performance, which speaks to DeSantis’ grown-up style of governance—no distractions, no side shows, just leadership. Among swing voters, Florida’s successful governor very much remains one of the leading contenders for the presidency.

Why? Because most voters want an adult in the room.

Trump’s fundamental challenge is that he cannot win re-election without swing voters, and they have absolutely and irrevocably abandoned him. Over 15 months worth of anti-polling research, coupled with a massive, nine-month study of 19 million voters across the ideological spectrum, shows that Trump is completely underwater among swing voters. Joe Biden may not be too far ahead of him, but the sitting president can still win them back. Trump simply can’t. Meanwhile, DeSantis would clearly beat Biden in 2024.

That may all come down to Iowa, where 69 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers aren’t going to vote for Trump. Given a credible, conservative, and electable alternative, the garbage polling narrative of Trump’s strength will be debunked as an obvious myth.

Every candidate should earn every vote, but DeSantis is best positioned to marshal a party that largely reflects his values and admires his success, and to take an Iowa win all the way to the nomination. It matters for the simplest reason: Nominating Trump will cost Republicans the general election (and likely the House and deeper losses in the Senate).

But DeSantis can beat Biden, and lead a party that has lost three straight Trump-led elections off the back of bad polling back to actually winning.

Real, reliable data—rather than the endless stream of garbage polling—shows Trump is toxic to Republican chances in 2024, and a majority of GOP primary voters are readily open to alternatives, with DeSantis being the most viable. The electability question is perfect for the debate stage, if Trump had the guts to stand on it. But, just because Trump ducks debate with DeSantis doesn’t make the question go away.

The only answer for Republicans is to nominate an actually electable candidate. Only one candidate has a chance with swing voters, and his name isn’t Donald Trump.

If winning matters, Ron DeSantis is the only bet. Can we, as Republicans and conservatives, put factionalism aside and win?

Dan Backer is a veteran campaign counsel, having served more than 100 candidates and PACs, including Ready to Win. He practices law as a Member of Chalmers, Adams, Backer & Kaufman LLC.


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