CONROE, Texas (AP) — There was something different next to the “TRUMP WON!” T-shirts, the “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hats and the “LET’S GO BRANDON” flags for sale at former President Donald Trump’s recent Texas rally: a collection of “DeSantis 2024” bumper stickers.
Nikki Rye, who lives in Florida and has been selling Trump gear at his events since 2015, said the merchandise hyping her state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, “is a very, very sought-after item.” Beyond the stickers, a life-size cutout of DeSantis stood at one side of her shop, with Trump flanking the other.
As Trump aims for a political comeback, the DeSantis memorabilia signaled a shift emerging among the MAGA faithful. While the vast majority of the more than two dozen people interviewed at his rally at a Texas fairground cheered the prospect of another Trump White House bid, some began to concede that there might be better options.
And for anyone toying with a Trump alternative, DeSantis topped the list.
They were people like Kim Mitchell, 62, who lives in Canyon Lake, Texas, and was overjoyed to be seeing Trump in person. She and her husband have been longtime supporters; a Trump flag hangs proudly in his automotive garage. And if Trump goes through with another run, they both say they’ll support him.
But Mitchell said she could see the benefits of a less polarizing alternative.
“You know, there’s several people out there that seem to have the same beliefs that he does. And people don’t hate them,” she said, blaming Biden’s victory on a combination of election fraud — which election officials and courts have rejected — and the visceral dislike Trump inspires. “I hate to say that because I feel like I’m being disloyal.”
But she’s not alone.
A recent poll from The Associated Press-Center for Public Affairs Research found that while 71% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Trump, a smaller percentage — 56% — want him to run again in 2024. The poll found 44% of Republicans do not want Trump to run.
Meanwhile, a recent NBC poll found that, by a 20-point margin, Republicans now identify more as supporters of the Republican Party than supporters of Trump — a reversal from the sentiment before the 2020 election.
Longtime GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who has conducted focus groups of voter opinion, said Republicans have fractured into three distinct blocs: those who have moved on from Trump, those who “will follow him off a cliff,” and those who “really appreciate him, follow him, are still strongly favorable towards him,” but are looking for another option.
“He still has a core of somewhere between one-third and 40% that will vote for him no matter what,” Luntz said. “But it is now a minority. It was the majority up until six months ago. But it is now the minority.”
The cracks in support are forming as Trump often appears more interested in relitigating the 2020 election than focusing on issues affecting…
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