The four biggest problems Trump faces in 2024 campaign

Former President Donald Trump knocked out the last of his major primary opponents on Super Tuesday and can now pivot to the general election.

Although multiple polls show Trump leading President Joe Biden, it won’t necessarily be smooth sailing to November. Several pressing problems plague Trump’s campaign, some beyond his direct control.

Money, money, money

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley outraised Trump in January. The former president won’t have to worry about spending money on the primaries anymore and is on track to have enough delegates to clinch the nomination later this month. But Biden has been a prodigious fundraiser, Trump’s legal bills are mounting, and large civil judgments are taxing his personal fortune.

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The Biden campaign was quick to make hay of Trump’s cash crunch when it became clear he would be the Republican nominee.

“In January, Trump’s campaign raised $8.8 million while spending around $11.5 million, ending the month $2.6 million in the hole,” Biden campaign Chairwoman Jen O’Malley Dillon and campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez wrote in a memo released Wednesday. “His super PAC is further in the hole: in the entire month of January, it spent more than it raised.”

The Republican National Committee reported its worst fundraising in a decade last year and began 2024 with a little more than $8 million in cash on hand. The Democratic National Committee, by contrast, had $21 million.

There have been reports that the Trump campaign is looking at ways to control costs. His team will also soon take over the RNC, leading to joint fundraising efforts and coordinated spending.

Felony conviction politician

While most of the legal cases against Trump have been delayed or are in disarray and the indictments boosted him in the primaries, he remains at risk of being convicted of a crime before Election Day. Polling suggests a single criminal conviction could erase his lead in the battleground states key to an Electoral College majority.

A New York Times/Siena College showing Trump sweeping those states also recorded a 6% drop in support in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin if convicted. 

That could be the ballgame.

The NBC News exit polls for the Republican primaries on Super Tuesday also suggested there would be some defections if Trump were convicted. Thirty-seven percent of primary voters in Virginia, 31% in North Carolina, and 23% in California said Trump would be unfit to serve if convicted of a crime.

It’s possible that this wouldn’t hold up if the hypothetical turned into a reality, especially since Trump’s supporters are already aware of the existing indictments. The exit poll numbers could also reflect the participation of anti-Trump voters in GOP primaries in the absence of a competitive Democratic race.

Nevertheless, it’s a warning sign.

The legal problems could also affect Trump’s availability to campaign or even govern.

The RFK factor

Right now, Trump’s lead grows somewhat when third-party candidates enter into the equation. Most of them, such as Cornel West and Jill Stein, come from the left. When such candidates did better in 2016, Trump won. When the third-party vote shriveled in 2020, Trump lost.

But the biggest third-party candidate on the scene, pending a major No Labels recruit, is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. A descendant of the Democrats’ first family, he is polling better than any non-major-party presidential candidate since Ross Perot. And it is unpredictable whether Biden or Trump will lose more votes to Kennedy in November.

Kennedy has traditionally been seen as a member of the progressive Left, but he made a lot of inroads with the Right in recent years. Conservatives also promoted him when it looked like he would be Biden’s main Democratic primary challenger instead of an independent candidate. House Republicans invited Kennedy to testify before Congress.

In this election cycle, Kennedy has taken a mixture of left-wing and right-wing positions. He could also appeal to some supporters of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) who disapproved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. There are members of the progressive Left disaffected with Biden’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza who are looking for a third option too. 

Political scientists are still debating which candidate was most hurt by Perot’s mostly successful campaign in 1992, when he drew 19% of the vote nationally, more than 30 years later.

Kennedy is currently winning 12.7% in the RealClearPolitics average of polls measuring a five-way race for president. Trump leads that average by 2.7 points.

GOP disunity

Haley suspended her campaign, paving the way for Trump to become the presumptive nominee in days. But she stopped short of endorsing him and said he would have to earn her support.

Haley’s claim to represent 40% of the GOP primary electorate is exaggerated. Most national polls show Trump doing a better job of consolidating his base than Biden. There is reason to believe Haley’s best showings outside of Washington, D.C., and Utah were reliant on non-Republicans looking for another chance to vote against Trump without a real Democratic contest.

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But it is undeniable that Haley does speak for some Republicans who still haven’t warmed to Trump. Her endorsement could also help Trump with suburban women, who were a factor in his 2020 defeat. Finally, Trump has a penchant for intraparty feuds with Republican leaders other than Haley.

A second term could require an all-hands-on-deck effort by the GOP.


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