Have you ever tried to push your way into an already crowded, narrow elevator in an old apartment building? In announcing his candidacy for the presidency on Thursday, former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas sought to do just that.
Hurd has joined a growing collection of Republican presidential candidates who are positioning themselves as skeptical of — or even in opposition to — former President Donald Trump, the current front-runner whose ideas and stylings have reshaped the Republican Party. Broadly defined, this group includes clear Trump adversaries such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and not-as-vociferous critics like former Vice President Mike Pence and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. Hurd, who served three terms in the House, said in his announcement that he wouldn’t be “afraid of Donald Trump,” and he called Trump a “failed politician.” He had previously castigated Trump for hurting the GOP’s brand in recent elections and for putting “lives at risk” by retaining classified documents that are at the center of a 37-count federal indictment of Trump.
However, this cohort’s stance toward Trump is out of step with the views of the vast majority of Republican primary voters, who mostly support either Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another candidate offering a Trump-adjacent, culture-war-driven outlook for the GOP. Despite this, nearly half the GOP candidate field can now be categorized as Trump skeptical or anti-Trump while seeking to represent a party that is more pro-Trump than not. As a result, this group of candidates stands to fight over an already thin slice of the primary pie that constitutes a clear minority of primary voters.
Just how small that slice is depends on how you measure it. One shorthand way to read the Republican race is to sum up the vote share that Trump and DeSantis receive in national polls, which adds up to nearly 75 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s national average.1 That is, the best-known “Trumpy” candidates (including the man himself) are pulling in around three-fourths of the vote, while the other candidates are garnering support from the remaining quarter.
Now, this is not a perfect measure of how pro-Trump the party is. After all, not every DeSantis supporter may identify as pro-Trump — in some surveys, DeSantis has attracted a sizable share of comparatively moderate or less conservative primary voters — and the twists and turns of the campaign could certainly shift support. Not to mention, different polls have found varying levels of favorability toward and identification with Trump’s “MAGA” vision among Republicans. Nevertheless, about three-fourths of likely GOP primary voters told YouGov/CBS News earlier this month that if Trump didn’t become the party’s nominee, they wanted a nominee “similar to Trump.”
On top of this, around half of the voters in national polls who aren’t backing Trump or DeSantis currently back contenders who openly support Trump or who’ve been relatively muted in their critiques of the former president. (We should note, though, that not all candidates are in our polling average, due to limited polling — Hurd included.) Most obviously, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — polling at about 3 percent — promised to pardon Trump should he become president after federal authorities indicted Trump on charges related to his handling of classified documents. Meanwhile, former Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott combine for about 7 percent in our average, and they’re positioned as solidly conservative contenders who have offered — at most — limited criticism of Trump.
The remaining voters express support for candidates who are more openly opposed to Trump, but they collectively garner about 10 percent in national surveys. Pence is polling at around 6 percent, while Christie and Hutchinson combine for about 3 percent. It’s true that Christie is polling much better in New Hampshire — he’s been in the high single digits in two recent surveys there — but recall that he won 7 percent in the Granite State in the 2016 GOP primary, far and away his best performance that cycle.
Hurd now joins this group of candidates, but given his anti-Trump stance, it’s difficult to imagine him gaining support from more pro-Trump forces. Instead, the voters most receptive to his message constitute a small share of the electorate, making it likely that Hurd will struggle to find a place in the already-cramped anti-Trump elevator. It remains to be seen if he can raise money and build a significant campaign, and there’s no question he starts out as a little-known option: In the last two months, he’s garnered more than 0 percent in exactly one survey that included him as a choice. To put that in perspective, candidates in theory need only two respondents to support them in a survey of 400 voters to achieve 0.5 percent, which rounds to 1 percent — although in an actual poll, a pollster would weight respondents based on factors like educational attainment and race.
Candidates like Hurd, Pence and Christie may hope to win hearts and change minds by making an assertive case for another version of the Republican Party, accompanied by varying degrees of criticism for Trump. And as that YouGov/CBS News poll showed, around a quarter of the primary electorate may prefer a candidate who isn’t like Trump — with that share potentially becoming larger in states that have open or partially open primary systems that permit independents or even Democrats to vote in them. But that portion of the Republican primary electorate will still pale in comparison to the GOP base, which has a strong desire to ride with Trump or someone like him all the way to the top.