TonErri Burl was an early member of the Trump Women’s Organization. As chairman of her local GOP branch in northern Wisconsin, she twice campaigned vigorously for him in key swing states. When Trump left office, Burr named him the greatest president since Ronald Reagan. Maybe better.
But now Burr has had enough.
She was apprehensive about the prospect of Trump announcing a re-run for president — as he is expected to do in Florida on Tuesday night. Burr predicts that if it involves a fight with right-wing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination, and if the former U.S. president becomes the nominee, he will lose the 2024 election. There will be a lot of blood.”
“I’m going to support whoever the Republicans choose to run in 2024. That’s right. But I hope they pass the primaries, I hope it’s not Trump. He’s got too much baggage right now. We need fresh blood because It’s clear he can’t do business right now without doing something irritating. His behavior hasn’t changed,” she said.
Substitute teacher Burr is not alone.
Republicans failed to deliver on a promised “red wave” in the midterm elections, a major blow to Trump’s claim to be the voice of his party’s voters, especially as his primary candidate lost. But support from the grassroots, which has kept him tightly in control of the Republican Party for years and held back its rival leadership, has eroded for months.
Republican county chairmen and activists say support for the former president has dwindled as he continues to push election conspiracy theories, investigations into his corporate and political practices and his attacks on his most threatening challenger, DeSantis. On top of that, there is growing concern that Trump is now more divided than he was two years ago, when he lost to Joe Biden by more than 7 million votes and is therefore unelected.
But local GOP leaders also said Trump retains a large and loyal following in the party who will fight to the end and can still decide the primary.
In rural Iowa, Howard County Republican Party Chairman Neil Shaffer said he would rather see DeSantis as the party’s nominee within two years, but members of his branch are divided.
“Honestly, Trump has a lot of baggage and he brought it on himself. If he takes his losses in stride, and keeps silent and doesn’t spread these conspiracy theories further, he might be president again, but Biden is temporary,” He says.
“The people who joined Trump, there were a lot of independents, a lot of first-time voters, a lot of regular people. They did overlook some issues. A lot of people I’ve spoken to since are first-timers People of Republican voters, it’s hard to be as enthusiastic as Trump this time around because he didn’t exit gracefully. He lost a lot of political capital between November and January 6, 2020, and needlessly. Both. It’s self-inflicted.”
Shaffer said he has confidence in the electoral system that Biden legally won the election.
Like Burr, Shaffer wants to see other candidates challenge Trump for the Republican nomination.
“Honestly, I’m a huge fan of Governor DeSantis and have been on the last campaign for months. Fresh faces. Has the same agenda as Trump without all the baggage,” he said .
But Shaffer doubts Trump can be defeated.
“If Trump runs, I’m 99% sure he’ll get the nomination. I know how caucuses and primaries work. You don’t have to have that many people showing up, he has a very loyal and dedicated following, ‘ said Shaffer.
Burr isn’t too sure Trump will win the primary, but she predicts a bitter fight could further damage the GOP.
“If these two guys were the rest, walking back and forth, I think it would be brutal. There would be a lot of blood on the floor,” she said.
Days after the midterm elections, a YouGov poll showed DeSantis leading Trump by 7 points among Republican primary voters, including independents. That’s in contrast to Trump’s 10-point advantage a month before the election. Among the “strong Republicans,” however, Trump maintained a narrow edge.
Burl manages a private Facebook group, American Patriots. She polled her members and found Trump with a slight edge. On other social media forums, some of his supporters described him as a “proven fighter” who was able to connect with the public in ways no other politician could. Others said it was time to “dump Trump.”
“I love what DJT has done for America. But… can he still be elected?” asked one of his supporters.
After he backed weak candidates in the midterms, others questioned his judgment simply because they were loyal to his claims that the last presidential election was stolen.
Trump’s mocking of his Florida opponent as Ron “DeSanctimonious” days before the midterm elections was the final straw for some. He then took to Fox News to warn DeSantis against running for president, saying “he could seriously hurt himself” and threatening to “tell you something about him that wouldn’t be very flattering.”
“I don’t think he’s going to make mistakes. I don’t think the base will like it. I don’t think it’s good for the party,” Trump said.
Burr said she was “shocked” by the former president’s attack on DeSantis.
“Trump started scolding him, which really disappointed me. Then he said if DeSantis tried to confront him, he would find some stain on DeSantis and he would bring it up. It’s not the way things are done,” she said.
Burr said some Republicans are concerned that while they see Trump as their own, DeSantis is a multi-talented politician whose decisions are calculated based on what he believes will benefit voters. .
“Some people say they don’t trust DeSantis because they think he’s going to be in the establishment. I’m not an institution. I don’t like building candidates. I like people like Trump,” she said.
“But even though some people may see DeSantis as the establishment right now, I think he’s coming out as his own Republican and really doesn’t want to fight with all the establishment Republicans and do what they say do it.”
Shaffer worries that if Trump loses and keeps fighting, it will be damaging to the Republican Party and its presidential candidates.
“How does Trump campaign without tarnishing other candidates?” he said.
What if Trump was the nominee? Schaeffer said he would still run for the former president, but did not like the prospect.
“If Trump gets the nomination, this time will be a lot harder for him than 2020. We’re going to have to work very hard, harder than we did in 2016 or two years [ago]” He says.