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Here's how Donald Trump loses the 2024 election

There is no question President Biden is wildly unpopular with voters. No poll has him anywhere close to above water in approval rating. Further, on individual issues, Biden is also viewed as out of line with what the public wants or supports.

This has all the makings of a replay of the 1980 election, in which Ronald Reagan wiped the floor with President Jimmy Carter by almost 10 points. But no poll suggests a result like that one, or anything close to it, for that matter. Why? Because even though Biden’s policies are so unpopular, Donald Trump is just as unpopular personally.

The election is still a long way off, so polling today is more of a checkpoint than anything else. And the checkpoint is not as good for Trump as you think it is. Voters hate Biden’s policies, but they hate Trump the person — not universally, of course, but to a degree that makes everything more difficult for the former president.

Were that hatred not real, Trump would be running away in the polls right now. With the exception of abortion, there isn’t much issue-wise where Biden enjoys popular support.

Biden is underwater on nearly everything. On the economy, the RealClearPolitics average has him at minus-18.6 percentage points. On foreign policy, the RCP average is minus-25.2 percentage points. On immigration and inflation it’s minus-29.4 and minus-29.5, respectively, and on the Israeli-Hamas war Biden is at a whopping minus-29.9 percentage points.

Were this any other year, or were the presumptive Republican nominee anyone else, this election would be a massacre. But it is 2024, and Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee. There’s no getting around that.

That’s why, when you look at the polling on issues, there is a massive disconnect between where the public is relative to the current president, and who they are telling pollsters they will vote for.

The RCP average for president has Trump up only 1.2 percent in the national popular vote. Trump fares better in the swing states, ranging from his 6.2 point lead in Nevada to a 0.6 percent lead in Wisconsin.

Depending on where you get your news and the political bent of the people giving it to you, you think either that Trump is winning in a walk or that Biden has no need to dig his suitcases out of storage. But the truth lies somewhere in between.

Biden is very much disliked as president. People see him as either out of touch with what they care about or just wrong on the issues. He doesn’t seem to care, declaring the polls to be uniformly wrong.

The truth is, the polls are right, and they show that Biden is unpopular and Trump is hated. There’s a difference between those two things.

The closeness of the general election polls indicate that a very slight majority, at least as of this moment, would rather vote for someone they hate than for someone they think is bad at the job or wrong on the issues.

The Trump years are viewed favorably by more people now than they were at the time, and certainly more favorably economically than the Biden years. The only variable that can’t be accounted for is Trump himself.

Trump inspires people either to love him or to hate him. You won’t find much indifference. Biden, on the other hand, might as well be an empty shoe — he almost doesn’t matter. This election will be about whether people’s dislike of Trump outweighs their preference for the results of his presidency over those of Biden’s presidency.

Trump’s diehard supporters won’t understand this any more than Trump-haters can understand how people could like him. But reality is not dependent upon any of us accepting it.

If Trump can figure out a way to less “Trumpy,” even just a little bit less, a little more often, he will increase his odds of winning significantly. If not, things could well slide in the other direction.

It’s an odd campaign objective — to make someone less hated or annoying — but Trump wins by quite a bit on nearly every issue. He himself is the main obstacle to a lot of people voting for him. No amount of dislike for Biden is going to change that, because with Trump — and uniquely with Trump — people separate the man from the results.

Many seem willing to forgo what they see as better policy to oppose someone they don’t like personally. Biden is an afterthought — a non-entity who, even if he wins reelection, can lay no real claim to a mandate for anything except not being Trump.

I hope that people put aside their feelings about Trump. I’m with him, and as far as the issues go, so are the American people. But this election may not be about issues at all. If it becomes an election about personality, then that’s how Donald Trump ends up losing.

Derek Hunter is host of the Derek Hunter Podcast and a former staffer for the late Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).

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