The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump voters back his candidates. Some aren’t so sure about a 2024 bid.

Interviews with primary voters show fatigue with Trump’s divisiveness and interest in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Former president Donald Trump makes an appearance at a rally in support of GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters and other Republicans on July 22 in Prescott Valley, Ariz. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Dianne Kennedy voted a straight Trump ticket in Tuesday’s Arizona primary, casting her ballot for the former president’s endorsed candidates in every race.

But when it comes to Donald Trump’s own potential White House run in 2024, Kennedy isn’t sure if she’d support him again.

“There’s so much hatred toward him, it’ll just tear up the country,” Kennedy said in an interview outside her polling place in Paradise Valley, Ariz., near Phoenix. “If he does run, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Tuesday’s primary results across the country were unquestionably a show of strength for Trump’s enduring influence over the GOP. His preferred candidates, all of whom embrace his false claims of mass fraud in the 2020 election, led up and down the ballot in Arizona. State House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who resisted Trump’s demands to overturn the election and testified to the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, lost his primary for a state Senate seat. In Michigan, pro-impeachment Rep. Peter Meijer lost his reelection bid, and Trump’s pick also won the gubernatorial primary.

But interviews with dozens of Republican primary voters here suggest that voting for Trump’s preferred midterm candidates is not the same as eagerly wishing to vote again for Trump himself. While these voters continued to express support for Trump and his agenda, many doubted he would be the best nominee for president and showed openness to potential rivals, most often Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“There’s too many people that hate him,” Charles Recker, a Republican from Phoenix who still likes Trump but doesn’t want him to run again, said of the former president. “You have other candidates that are similar to him but actually work with people a lot better,” he said, suggesting DeSantis or former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley.

Such views align with recent polls and focus groups suggesting softening enthusiasm for a third Trump campaign. A New York Times-Siena College poll in July found that 49 percent of Republican primary voters said they would support Trump again. In focus groups since the Jan. 6 committee hearings began, anti-Trump Republican strategist Sarah Longwell observed a distinct drop-off in Trump’s support, with no participants wanting him to run again, after dozens of panels in which half the people supported Trump and the rest were open to it.

Longwell said these voters aren’t being persuaded by the hearings so much as they’re exhausted with the Trump circus and bored of his fixation on the 2020 election, when they would rather hear him attack Biden and blame the Democrats for inflation.

“Now it’s like there’s people who are hard nos explaining to the soft pro-Trump-running-again people why it’s a bad idea,” Longwell, who co-hosts the Bulwark’s “Focus Group” podcast, said in a recent interview. “And if you’ve done as many of these as I have, that is a notable difference.”

Longwell cautioned that she had seen past instances of people drifting away from Trump after major news events such as his defense of white-supremacist marchers in Charlottesville or his suggestion that injecting bleach could treat the coronavirus. One reason this time might be different is that voters now have other leaders to choose from, such as DeSantis, who Longwell said is the most frequently named alternative.

Arizona, in particular, has been a hotbed of fervor for Trump and his false election claims. Fox News’ early call that Joe Biden won the state — the second Democratic presidential nominee to do so since 1948 — enraged Trump and led him to claim in an election night speech that the race was being stolen. He pressured state and party officials to reject the results, and Republican state lawmakers launched a widely panned review of Maricopa County’s ballots that still ultimately agreed that Biden won. Trump’s endorsed candidates in the state have championed the former president’s claims, including Kari Lake for governor, Blake Masters for U.S. Senate and Mark Finchem for secretary of state.

Even here, though, and even among people who supported Trump’s candidates and their election falsehoods, voters expressed fatigue with Trump’s brashness and divisiveness.

“I’d prefer he didn’t run again because it’s not good for the country,” a woman named Kelly who declined to give her last name after voting at a church in Scottsdale. “He can get more things done with honey. He rubbed people the wrong way.” Asked about possible alternatives, she offered that “the Florida guy is good.”

Richard Smouse, a retired software engineer who voted for Trump’s endorsed candidates on Tuesday at a pool in Chandler, Ariz., said he’s not opposed to Trump running again but is open to others as well. “We definitely need a strong candidate,” Smouse said. “There are other strong candidates, like Ron DeSantis.”

The distancing from Trump reflects longer-running ambivalence among some Republicans who liked aspects of his presidency but often cringed at his conduct. Greg Skidmore, a 49-year-old accountant in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, said Trump has done good things but thinks he “rattles too much and does too much on Twitter.” He said he would like to see DeSantis run.

“I just think he’s got what it takes, from the candidates that are possibly going to run in 2024 that could possibly beat Trump,” Skidmore said.

Robbie Hodges, an aerospace engineer who also voted at the pool in Chandler, said he liked Trump’s accomplishments but would rather have a president who can work across the aisle. “I don’t like that he’s so divisive,” Hodges said. “Stuff needs to be done, and I don’t know if he can when half the country is so against him.”

Hodges said DeSantis can also be “harsh for some” but is “able to explain himself better” than Trump.

Emily Cook, 56, a Republican from the Mesa area who works in health care, said she voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, followed his endorsements in the Arizona primary, and is “undecided” about whether she believes Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. But for 2024, she’s eying DeSantis, citing his legislative agenda and fewer controversies.

“I worry if they both run, they’ll split the vote and neither one of them will win; that’s my fear,” she said. “Of the two, at this moment, I would lean to Ron DeSantis, but I could flip-flop.”

Some Trump supporters said their allegiance was undimmed. Derek Dana, who also voted for all of Trump’s picks on Tuesday, said he would love for Trump to run in 2024 — “hopefully sooner,” a reference to reports that Trump may announce his campaign before the midterms in November.

Gigi Marteney, a 53-year-old Republican who is a mental health specialist for children, said she heeded Trump’s endorsements and would vote for him a third time. She also expressed interest in DeSantis, 43, for his appeal as a younger candidate.

“He’s much younger,” Marteney said. “We need someone who’s going to relate to the younger people, too.”

Other Republican voters had hardened in their opposition to Trump. A man who identified himself as Chris and declined to give his last name came to vote in Scottsdale with a mock-up ballot that he and his wife had prepared, with none of Trump’s picks selected.

“I’m a Republican, but I dislike Trump and his endorsements,” he said. “His criteria seems to be ‘who believes I won the election.’ I voted for him both times, but since then I really do not like him now and definitely prefer he not run again.”

David James, a Republican voter in Chandler, said he voted against Trump’s picks because of their claims about widespread voter fraud. “There’s no voter fraud; the courts have already proven that,” James said, alluding to the Trump campaign’s failed lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 results.

Even though he’s a Republican and voted for Trump in 2016, James said he expects to vote for Democrats this fall.

“I can’t vote for people who undermine our democratic process,” he said.

Understanding the 2022 Midterm Elections

November’s midterm elections are likely to shift the political landscape and impact what President Biden can accomplish during the remainder of his first term. Here’s what to know.

When are the midterm elections? The general election is Nov. 8, but the primary season is nearing completion, with voters selecting candidates in the New York and Florida primaries Tuesday. Here’s a complete calendar of all the primaries in 2022.

Why are the midterms important? The midterm elections determine control of Congress: The party that has the House or Senate majority gets to organize the chamber and decide what legislation Congress considers. Thirty six governors and thousands of state legislators are also on the ballot. Here’s a complete guide to the midterms.

Which seats are up for election? Every seat in the House and a third of the seats in the 100-member Senate are up for election. Dozens of House members have already announced they will be retiring from Congress instead of seeking reelection.

What is redistricting? Redistricting is the process of drawing congressional and state legislative maps to ensure everyone’s vote counts equally. As of April 25, 46 of the 50 states had settled on the boundaries for 395 of 435 U.S. House districts.

Which primaries are the most competitive? Here are the most interesting Democratic primaries and Republican primaries to watch as Republicans and Democrats try to nominate their most electable candidates.

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