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One Republican worry about Trump: He can’t win

Sen. Todd Young is the latest Republican to break from Trump, citing his record of losses in recent years.

Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) walks to the Senate Republican Luncheon in the US Capitol Building on August 2, 2022, in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) has said that he will not support Trump in the 2024 Republican primary, becoming the latest GOP senator to explicitly take this stance. Young did not tell reporters, however, whether he would back Trump if he were the Republican nominee in the general election, an indication that the party could still come together to support him if needed.

Young’s comments this week highlight the ongoing fracturing in the Republican Party over whether to stand by Trump due to his support from the base, or whether to back a presidential nominee who has less political, legal, and personal baggage.

“Where do I begin?” asked Young, a second-term senator from Indiana, when asked about reasons for his decision. “I can’t think of someone worse equipped to bring people together ... and advance our collective values than the former president,” he told HuffPost.

Young’s comments follow similar statements from Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), both of whom have been vocal opponents of Trump in the past. Young has criticized Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection, but did not vote to impeach him in 2021 as the two other lawmakers did. While Young’s stance is notable, it’s not surprising given his somewhat more moderate positions and his willingness to call Trump out in the past.

Young highlighted Trump’s refusal to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal as one of his concerns about the former president’s candidacy, and the fact that he — and several of his endorsed candidates — have lost recent elections. In 2022, Trump did not endorse Young’s run for reelection in Indiana, and the senator won his primary running unopposed.

“As President Trump says, I prefer winners,” he told HuffPost. “He consistently loses. In fact, he has a habit of losing not just his own elections, but losing elections for others.” Young has not yet stated who he’d back for the Republican nomination, saying simply, “[I]t won’t be him.”

Young’s position is indicative of the schism happening in the GOP over Trump, particularly among the upper echelons of the party. A number of politicians and donors believe Trump may be able to win the primary, but would struggle to reach moderate Republicans and independents in the general. Some of these Republicans — including, as of Friday, Iowa Senate President Amy Sinclair and House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl — are rallying behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is perceived as being Trump-like but without the controversy. That said, while an increasing number of Republicans are expressing concerns about having the former president as the party’s nominee, most lawmakers have either declined to take a position or have already backed Trump.

The worries about Trump have emerged as multiple election deniers he supported in the midterms lost battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2022, and as his legal troubles have piled up in recent months. Trump was most recently found liable of sexual abuse toward writer E. Jean Carroll, and he also faces multiple state and federal investigations. Trump’s 2020 loss to President Joe Biden has also raised questions of whether he’s likely to be defeated again in the same match-up.

“You look back at what happened in 2022 and these Trump-backed problem candidates cost Republicans the Senate,” says Jessica Taylor, a Senate expert at Cook Political Report.

Why the GOP is fracturing over Trump

Despite some critiques he faces, Trump continues to have strong support from the GOP base and Republican voters. According to the FiveThirtyEight roundup of Republican primary polls, Trump leads with 52 percent support while DeSantis is next up with just above 20 percent.

In an April NBC News poll following Trump’s New York indictment for falsifying business records, 68 percent of Republican primary voters said they supported Trump and stood by him, while 26 percent said it was important to nominate a candidate who wouldn’t be a distraction and who could beat Biden.

The strength of Trump’s backing is evident among elected officials as well. Per a Business Insider roundup, 11 Republican senators have endorsed Trump for 2024 and more than 50 House members have done the same or shared their support. That far surpasses any competitors, including DeSantis, as an Axios analysis shows.

Those who are sticking with Trump say they’re doing so because they’re aligned with his policies on the border and the economy, and because they view him as having a unique appeal to voters that will help the party in 2024. There could be an element of self-preservation involved in this support as well, as lawmakers who’ve taken clear stances against Trump in the past, like former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, have faced a more right-wing primary challenger and lost their seats. Young is among those uniquely situated in his ability to confront Trump since he was recently reelected.

Additionally, some lawmakers, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have previously spoken out against Trump’s behavior while still noting that they’d “absolutely” support him if he’s the nominee. That suggests that even if Republicans are willing to oppose him now, they’ll still consolidate behind Trump if he gets the nomination.

There are still many Republicans who have yet to take any position at all when it comes to the primary, and that’s notable in its own way since Trump is a former president and, in many respects, remains the leader of his party. Those who are explicitly opposing Trump, like Young, have expressed concerns about his unwillingness to accept the 2020 election result and the violence that resulted on January 6, along with questions about electability.

In the 2022 midterms, 33 of Trump’s endorsed candidates in competitive races lost, according to an NBC News analysis, while 46 won. Those losses are concerning for Republicans running in swing states like Arizona and Georgia, both of which Biden won in 2020 and Trump won in 2016. Trump may have no issue winning a primary due to support from Republican voters, but questions remain about whether he could win a general election and if his legal issues would drag down other candidates on the ballot.

“Donald Trump is a loser,” top GOP fundraiser Eric Levine told Politico. “He is the first president since Hoover to lose the House, the Senate and the presidency in a single term. Because of him Chuck Schumer is the Leader Schumer, and the progressive agenda is threatening to take over the country. And he is probably the only Republican in the country, if not the only person in the country, who can’t beat Joe Biden.”