Nancy Ganem-Bond of Shapleigh wants President Joe Biden out. But if Republicans do not nominate former President Donald Trump, she does not even know if she will vote.
“The MAGA movement is not going anywhere,” Ganem-Bond said. “We’re here for President Trump, and we’re here for America.”
A disappointing election for Republicans in 2022, in which former Gov. Paul LePage was crushed by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, has more conservatives in Maine and nationally talking about moving on from the divisive Trump, who launched his 2024 comeback campaign this month.
But he has retained large leads in national polls of Republicans over potential challengers, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and seems to have a hold on the grassroots level. It adds up to a difficult situation for the party approaching the next election.
Trump faces investigations for taking classified information from the White House. He is under legal scrutiny for business dealings, actions during the Capitol insurrection and efforts to get the state of Georgia to reverse Biden’s win there in 2020. He was also criticized by Republican lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, for a recent dinner with a white supremacist.
While several Trump backers in Maine also admire DeSantis, whom many establishment figures hope will run in 2024, they see the former president as having a record that DeSantis lacks. They are not willing to concede that Trump’s troubles are anything more than Democratic ploys.
“He’s probably about the cleanest person in the country,” said Peter Dumont, 67, an entrepreneur from Oakland.
Many of these supporters see DeSantis as a bigger obstacle to Trump securing the nomination. The Florida governor has become a beloved figure among the GOP base for instituting conservative policies in his state.
While people have suggested other possibilities for the 2024 nomination — the first name that popped into Collins’ mind in a recent interview was former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — Dumont and others believe it will either be Trump or DeSantis. That could lead to a messy primary battle many fear.
“DeSantis decides to wait for four years, and I’m pretty sure Trump will get it,” Dumont said.
Some supporters acknowledge that Trump’s demeanor is off putting and could be an electoral liability, even if his fans place blame on the media.
“He does a fantastic job for our country. But some of the things he says, I wish he would not,” said Gertrude Sweetland, who owns a daycare in Yarmouth.
Pat Long, 62, of Hermon said she saw similar qualities in DeSantis, who attacks opponents and the press, but is more restrained than Trump. Long said she is leaning toward Trump but said it would be a hard choice. She is worried a primary could push Trump to go further in attacks against DeSantis.
She was one of many donors to Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign who were happy to talk about their support of the former president’s new bid. But a distrust of the media is still prevalent among many Trump supporters.
“You guys are too liberal,” a man in Levant who gave to the campaign said over the phone. “Bye.”
Asked about the potential for a DeSantis-Trump faceoff, a 76-year-old Blanchard Township donor said it was possible. Then he swore at a reporter and hung up.
As Sweetland acknowledged, Trump’s chaotic nature is part of his appeal to many Mainers. A visit to conservative bastions in Maine shows his appeal is strong. But his performances and the 2022 election have shown that he could be a drag on the party.
Tha appears to be holding up, at least statewide. A late-September poll from Emerson College conducted well before Trump announced his bid found Biden beating Trump by about 11 percentage points. The biggest question is whether he has broad enough support to win.
While it is true Trump has driven some from the party, many Mainers felt that they had little political voice before his emergence. Ronald Hoge of Mattawamkeag, formerly a police chief in Texas, said many in Maine’s rural north share his enthusiasm for Trump’s new run.
“He’s about the only one I’ve ever donated money to,” Hoge said. “I trust him on law enforcement stuff and doing what’s right.”