Following the first primary debate for the 2024 Presidential election, President John Pudner joined Scott Sands in Toledo, Ohio for an exclusive post-debate analysis and look at the current state of the race for the Republican field. In particular, Pudner dives into the persistent trend of younger candidates, such as Ohio-native and pharmaceutical executive Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, continue to poll higher than their older, more conventional counterparts, such as former Vice President Mike Pence or Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.
A Reuters poll indicated over 40% of likely voters are more inclined to vote for any of three candidates as a result of the recent debate - DeSantis, Ramaswamy, or the candidate who asked for a competency test for any candidate more than 75 years old - Nikki Haley. By comparison, half as many (only 20 percent) said they were more likely to vote for Pence based on the debate. Debate night polling and focus group judged Ramaswamy the winner, critics largely viewed Haley as the winner, but this poll indicated DeSantis was the winner, with 50% more likely to support - so they are the three that can argue they won.
Both attribute this to the need for fresh, new perspectives on today’s hot-button issues - similar to how former President Trump initially rose in 2015 - but with a new appeal - similar, Populist policy positions while also engaging a broader electorate. Not only has this proven to bode well throughout presidential history, with former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt, both cut from this same cloth, often polling as some of the most highly-regarded presidents, but also highlights this as a broader political trend, with the likes of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and US Senator JD Vance, in Ohio where the interview aired, as recent success stories.
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The following transcript from this interview is presented in its entirety with minor edits:
Vivek, Trump, DeSantis, New Hampshire, Iowa, numbers, national, candidates, momentum.
Scott Sands and TBOR Action President John Pudner.
Scott Sands 00:00
Our next guest is John Pudner, the President of Take Back Our Republic Action, takebackaction.org. Always great to have you on the show.
John Pudner 00:06
Oh, likewise, thank you.
Scott Sands 00:09
How important are the polling numbers that we're seeing right now? I mean, you're a numbers guy, you've ran polls, you've run successful political campaigns and strategies, worked with the Bush campaign. How important are the numbers we're seeing right now?
John Pudner 00:22
Well, they do matter, because I think it makes it clear that Trump is the big front-runner right now and the debate is for second place. I mean, someone is going to need to emerge as the alternative to have a chance. There can't be three, or four, or five alternatives, much less eight, because Trump's got to be somewhere near half the vote unless something really dramatic happens.
Scott Sands 00:45
Do you think we'll see anybody drop out already or will they try to hold on?
John Pudner 00:50
I think they'll try to hold on, but, you know, reality could set it at some point.
Scott Sands 00:56
I think the interesting thing, purely as an observer, is the depth of the Republican bench. There are some really good candidates on the stage, and some that didn't even make the stage, some that didn't even get into the race. Everybody kind of wants to pick up that mantle of the America First policies without the baggage that comes with Donald Trump. Who do you think is best suited to do that?
John Pudner 01:19
Well, I believe Vivek is. I think he brings the most to the table, but you know, they all offer something. And, you make a point, they're all pro-Trump agenda candidates...I mean, maybe not Chris Christie or Asa Hutchinson, but I think 97% of the party, when we're looking at the polls, wants a pro-Trump agenda candidate, it’s just do they want Trump or not and who brings more voters to the table it up? You could make that argument for several of them.
Scott Sands 01:44
I've talked with Vivek's campaign manager, he's been on the show, and he's an Ohio guy. I liked him a lot, and I liked the idea of having somebody more youthful and energetic, who is not a career politician, much like Donald Trump did eight years ago. But, I think it's hard for an outsider who doesn't know how things run to actually get anything done. I do like a lot of what Vivek says.
John Pudner 02:08
As you said, there are advantages to being inside, knowing how our system works, versus outside, we certainly prefer it outside. There are advantages to experience, and of course, the youthful inexperience as Reagan once joked in a great debate moment. But for those who say, "Hey, shouldn't Vivek just wait a while? He's in his 30s", well, the two youngest presidents in history right now are JFK and Teddy Roosevelt, and both historians and the public view them as two of the greatest ever. I think historians have them ranked with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, so the history of the young president has actually been quite good in this country.
Scott Sands 02:46
As you're looking at some of the numbers, Ron DeSantis has just plummeted in recent weeks. He's tried to re-tool his campaign. It's better in many things, sports racing, whatever, to have some momentum at the end, but he had a lot of people looking his way at the beginning of his campaign, and that's faltered, and now we're seeing him even in fourth place in New Hampshire.
John Pudner 03:15
It's tough being Trump's first opponent in a primary because he obviously drew the fire. I think Nick Lowry of National Review said it best when he said, "I just don't think DeSantis realized he was running against the greatest showman on earth when he started this." I mean, to not think there was a barrage coming, and you know, it's been tough, he's stumbled. If we'd been doing this interview a week after November, I'd be telling you that DeSantis has a clear path after that 20-point win in Florida and his successes as a governor. I'd say, if you just look at national numbers, Vivek has the most momentum and he's even voted second in some of them. Now, the problem for him is when you go Iowa and New Hampshire with them having so much a disproportional impact, because, there, DeSantis would still be stronger, even Chrstie's able to make a real Northeastern play at New Hampshire and get in the mix. So, that's the tough part of any of them dropping out.
Scott Sands 04:12
I mean, here's the way I think this plays out. I think we see DeSantis in second place in Iowa, I think Chris Christie comes in second in New Hampshire and then Tim Scott second in South Carolina, and I think Vivek does well, a solid third, pretty much across the board.
John Pudner 04:30
I think so, but can you go without finishing second in one of those few? I think the world is changing and maybe you can now. It used to be you really couldn't, you had to have a good showing there. It was Obama's shocker in Iowa when people first realized he could be the nominee, so yeah, you've got to get through, you've got to convince that you still have national momentum, even if you know the first couple of results you're gonna see on your screen up there. It's good for Trump strategically, because, as you said, you don't see anyone out there just going to come in and sweep all of those as number two. I don't see a scenario where anyone does, so he's still going to have a divided field, everyone's gonna have their one win probably, and still have five candidates, so that's really good for Trump.
Scott Sands 05:17
From a polling standpoint, how important is it that these candidates stay on message, talk about the things that voters care about, like the economy, like immigration, like crime, without getting too much into the weeds talking about attacking, or even defending, Donald Trump?
John Pudner 05:34
I think so. I think it's that coupling of, "Like everything he did, couldn't have hoped for more in four years, but think we need a new person to take the baton." It can be hard-hitting, but it has to come with some acknowledgment that...I think it's hard if you're really a conservative and go through issues, it's hard to pick out things that you didn't like that Trump did. I mean, I'm sure there are some for everybody, but that's the fine line that makes a little tough. It's not like, you know, like if you were running after Jimmy Carter or something. This is a different kind of attack.
Scott Sands 06:14
John Pudner, the President of Take Back Our Republic Action, takebackaction.org is the website. John, always great to have you on. You're an expert.