(MENAFN- IANS) Washington, Dec 6 (IANS) The Republican presidential race ahead of the primaries to the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire meet in another 50 days should have been really a referendum on former President Donald Trump, instead, it's turning out to be a vote on President Joe Biden's performance, because of the vice grip on the GOP that Trump holds, media reports said.
As the four presidential hopefuls prep up their debate Wednesday in Alabama for the 4th GOP debate, challengers like number two Nikki Haley and number three Ron DeSantis seem reluctant to make the GOP primary about Trump, perhaps wary of alienating the legions of Republican voters who have backed him in the past, media reports said.
The former New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, the most vocal critic of Trump, hasn't gained much traction in his campaign, polling below 4 per cent in Iowa, while holding at third place in New Hampshire. Christie and other anti-Trump Republicans say the party has no choice but to focus on the former president, given his weakness with independent voters and the unprecedented fact that he is facing as many as four criminal trials in the coming year, USA TODAY reported.
"If Trump is our nominee, we will not only lose the presidency again, but we will lose both houses of Congress, and we will lose races up and down the ticket," Christie told NewsNation in an interview. "He is political poison, up and down the ballot."
Wednesday's debate: Will Trump surface?
The non-Trump candidates will get another chance to discuss the frontrunner − or not − during Wednesday's debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is the question. Trump himself plans to host a fundraiser in Florida, skipping the Alabama debate just as he did the three previous throw-downs in Pennsylvania, San Francisco and Milwaukee.
Pollsters and political analysts don't expect the Trump issue to surface as they don't gain much attention or traction with the republican voters during the debate because there's little or no gain in it for the challengers. Most of Trump's rivals are leery of attacking the GOP's undisputed leader, fearing a backlash from grassroots Republican voters, they said.
Attacks on Trump seem to have strengthened him politically. Many Republican voters have rallied around him, regardless of whether the attacks have come from GOP rivals, President Joe Biden and the Democrats, or prosecutors and grand juries that have charged him with felony crimes, reports said.
Trump faces trials in Washington, D.C., and Georgia on charges of trying to steal the 2020 election. He was indicted in New York over hush money payments to an adult film actress, and in Florida on allegations of mishandling classified documents. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. "Criticism of Trump from any corridor makes him stronger in the Republican primary," said Republican political consultant Mike Madrid, who opposes the ex-president's campaign.
Trump holds leads of more than 45 percentage points in national polls compiled by the Real Clear Politics website.
Madrid added: "If politics was normal, this would be a referendum" on Trump. "But these are not normal times."
Republican pollster Whit Ayres said there are basically three types of Republican voters: "Always Trump", "Maybe Trump", and "Never Trump".
Challengers will need those Maybe Trump voters, he said, and that means they have to be careful in how they criticize the former president, making a case against him without offending the fence-sitters. Whatever the approach, the Republican race is all about Trump, whether candidates or pundits like it or not.
"It's defined by Trump," Ayres said. "He has such a big personality and has taken over the party."
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