News Clips

Reporters and analysts rely on the expertise and comments of team members at North Star Opinion Research to give their stories depth and strategic perspective.  Read clips from recent articles on pressing political news.


“They’re not going to settle for second-best Trump.”

Whit Ayres’ comments in The New York Times regarding Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign strategy:

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, argued in an email that DeSantis has adopted an approach to the nomination fight that was bound to fail:

“DeSantis’s strategy, and that of any candidate not named Trump, should be to consolidate the Maybe Trump voters. But DeSantis has seemed like he was going after the Always Trump voters with his aggressive language (“slitting throats”), his comment that Ukraine was just a “territorial dispute,” his suggestion that vaccine conspiracy theorist RFK Jr. would be a good candidate to head the Centers for Disease Control, and his doubling down on whether slavery might have been beneficial to some enslaved people.”

The problem with this approach, Ayres continued, is that “the Always Trump voters are ‘Always Trump’ for a reason — they are not going to settle for the second-best Trump if they can get the real thing.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, August 18

Whit Ayres’ comments to the Associated Press regarding the Republican primary electorate:

Whit Ayres, a national pollster based in Virginia, handicapped the GOP electorate as 10% to 15% “Never Trumpers” — those who might gravitate to Christie for his attacks on Trump — and 35% or so “die-hard MAGA Trump supporters,” referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

The rest, half or a slim majority of the party, “have doubts about his electability” in a general election but are still “reliable Republicans who voted for him twice,” Ayres said. Trump’s rivals cannot win over that remaining faction by “going after him frontally,” the pollster argued.

As a Republican, “you can’t call him unfit for office,” Ayres said. “That’s basically requiring half the party to admit they screwed up and put someone unfit for office into the Oval Office. That’s just a psychological step too far for most people.”

To read the full article on the PBS website, please click here.

Jon McHenry, August 14

Jon McHenry’s comments to The Boston Globe regarding the economy as an issue in the Republican primary and general election:

Letting the White House dominate the conversation isn’t good for Republicans with polls consistently showing that voters rank the economy as the most important issue, said Jon McHenry, a GOP pollster not affiliated with any of the campaigns.

“It makes a lot of sense to be out there … talking about what you’re going to do to fix the economy,” McHenry said of the candidates in the GOP primary campaign. “Republicans are better served being involved on the issue and laying the groundwork on it rather than ceding the issue to Joe Biden for the next 12 months or so.”

McHenry said Pence was smart to frame his economic plan, which goes beyond inflation, as still primarily focused on that problem.

“It’s a good shorthand on the economy,” he said. “Just talking about inflation is a pretty good way to make sure people are on the same page with you.”

For now, Biden is doing more talking in detail about the economy than his Republican opponents, making Bidenomics a centerpiece of his reelection campaign.

“I don’t know if it’s the dumbest or gutsiest move I’ve seen politically in the last 20 years,” McHenry said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, August 15

Whit Ayres’ comments to The New York Times regarding the political implications of former President Trump’s fourth indictment:

“I do think a conviction on a serious felony charge may change the views of at least the maybe-Trump cohort in the G.O.P. about his electability,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster. “On the other hand, an acquittal in the first case virtually assures his renomination.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, August 7

Whit Ayres spoke with The Guardian about Hunter Biden’s legal troubles:

Whit Ayres, a Republican political consultant and pollster, said: “There are plenty of questions surrounding his business activities and the extent to which he traded on his father’s name and reputation or used his father to get more money or get large contracts. There are plenty of questions and a lot of suspicion – in Republican circles anyway – about how that has been investigated.”

The scrutiny is testing boundaries and whether the family of a politician – even a president – is fair game. Hunter has never served in the White House, which is quick to describe him as a “private citizen”. But he is often seen at his father’s side, including on a recent trip to Ireland and on the White House balcony for 4 July fireworks, a frequent reminder of the president’s family complications.

Ayres added: “I don’t think I would be putting him front and centre as much as the president is doing. I understand his instinct to try to be loyal to a troubled son but politically it is not at all helpful. The less visible Hunter Biden is, the better it is for Joe Biden.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, August 4

Jon McHenry spoke to The Daily Caller about former President Donald Trump’s third indictment:

“President Trump really benefited from the first indictment being the Alvin Bragg indictment in NY. That acted like a traditional vaccine: he got enough of a virus to inoculate him but not put him at serious risk. With those charges being seen as politically driven, Trump has been able to fight off increasingly serious charges,” Jon McHenry, GOP polling analyst, told the DCNF. “Plus, this charge coming on the heels of a judge questioning a plea deal for Hunter Biden, it is relatively easy for the former president and his allies to charge that the Department of Justice has one set of standards for President Biden’s family and another set for Donald Trump.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, August 2

Jon McHenry joined Channel 4 News in the UK to discuss former President Trump’s standing despite multiple indictments:

https://www.channel4.com/news/why-trump-is-still-the-republican-presidential-front-runner-despite-several-indictments

Whit Ayres, July 31

Whit Ayres appeared on PBS NewsHour to discuss the current state of the race:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/republican-challengers-struggle-in-primary-polls-despite-trumps-legal-troubles

Jon McHenry, July 31

Jon McHenry’s comments in The Daily Caller regarding the DeSantis campaign “reboot”:

“I think a reset now gives Governor DeSantis a chance to reassert himself as the strongest alternative to former President Trump,” Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president at North Star Opinion Research, told the DCNF. “Gov. DeSantis moving to make himself more available to the media and voters is a great first step.”

McHenry argued the campaign’s “staff was too big,” which indicated to contributors that DeSantis wasn’t being responsible with their funds. DeSantis also needs to promote his record in Florida without simply “owning the libs,” said McHenry.

“At some point he’s going to have to draw some distinctions with Trump and talk about how he’s really led when President Trump followed Washington,” said McHenry. “It’s not enough to be ‘Trump without the baggage,’ you have to be a better choice and have a vision for the country’s future.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 25

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post on the Mike Pence campaign:

“Mike Pence is caught between a rock and a hard place. He’s too Trumpy for the non-Trumpies and not Trumpy enough for the Trumpies,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “If you say that Donald Trump is unfit for office, that puts people who voted for Trump in an uncomfortable position psychologically where they have to admit to themselves that they made a mistake. I suppose you could thread that needle by saying he was fit for office until Jan. 6th, and after that he wasn’t. But that’s really threading a needle with those folks.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Dan Judy, July 25

Dan Judy’s comments in The Hill regarding Governor DeSantis’ campaign and cultural issues:

Some Republicans argue that DeSantis has made a strategic miscalculation in allowing his stance on culture-war issues to overshadow everything else.

GOP strategist Dan Judy argued that the Republican primary electorate is comprised of three camps, which he termed “Always Trump,” “Never Trump” and “Maybe Trump” voters.

The red-meat rhetoric, Judy added, “most appeals to the people who won’t vote for anyone but Trump. And leaning so hard into the culture wars has actually turned off some of those ‘Maybe Trump’ voters who are less comfortable with the anti-trans stuff, the hard abortion stuff. That has been [DeSantis’s] biggest strategic mistake so far.” 

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 22

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Miami Herald on Governor Ron DeSantis’ appeal in the primary:

“College-educated Republicans were looking for an alternative to Donald Trump, and they initially thought Governor DeSantis, after his 19-point win in Florida, made for a good one,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran GOP pollster. “But the way he has run his campaign, constantly tacking to the right, has turned off many of those people who were initially attracted to him.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, July 18

Jon McHenry’s comments to The Daily Caller on the Q2 fundraising haul of Mike Pence and others:

The former vice president’s second quarter totals don’t indicate there is a “lane” for Pence, Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president at North Star Opinion Research, told the DCNF, echoing Bullock’s sentiment.

“Vice President Pence’s numbers are kind of right where you’d expect: some courtesy donations in appreciation of past relationships, but nothing that suggests there is a lane for him to pursue in this race,” McHenry told the DCNF. “His association with President Trump will sour the ‘never Trump’ folks, and his refusal to derail the certification of electors ticks off the hard core Trump folks.”

McHenry argued the second quarter totals reveal the “importance” of the first presidential debate in August to see which candidates catch fire, and questioned whether DeSantis can garner new donors with a strong debate performance.

“It’s hard to see much of a path forward for Governor Hutchinson or Governor Christie if they don’t score some points in that debate,” said McHenry. “As much as we can romanticize Senator McCain’s comeback in 2008, riding around New Hampshire on the Straight Talk Express, he had the benefit of being the second place candidate in 2000. None of the lower tier fundraisers has that level of visibility, and something will need to change to improve their fundraising and status for them to even make the Iowa caucus.”

To read the full article — including quotes from UGA professor Chuck Bullock — please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 13

Whit Ayres joined Bill Kristol on his Conversations podcast to answer the question: Is Trump Inevitable?

Jon McHenry, July 9

Jon McHenry’s comments to the Daily Caller News Foundation on the 2024 primary season to date:

Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president at North Star Opinion Research, also stressed how unprecedented this Republican primary is and argued Trump’s reshaping of the party, paired with his indictment by the Manhattan district attorney, have helped the former president dominate the polls.

“This really is a unique cycle, at least since we’ve used primaries and caucuses as the primary vehicle to nominate our presidential candidates. In that time, we haven’t had an incumbent president lose a reelection and run again, much less lead in the polls,” McHenry told the DCNF. “President Trump’s lead right now is in part a testament to the extent to which he reshaped the party from a conservative party to a populist party.”

McHenry acknowledged how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was polling well against the former president prior to the first indictment, and noted Trump’s spike in support ever since. (RELATED: Post-Indictment Poll Finds Trump Leading DeSantis In Key Early Primary State)

“With the New York charges in particular being seen as politically motivated and questionable legally — with a very different context than holding top secret documents in an unsecure location — the Republicans who might have been ready to move on to a fresh face have at least for now rallied back to the former president,” McHenry said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, July 6

Jon McHenry’s comments in The Boston Globe regarding New Hampshire’s role in the primary process:

Still, “New Hampshire is insanely important this time around,” said Jon McHenry, a national GOP pollster who grew up in the state. “There’s an opportunity to do as close to one-on-one as you’re going to be able to do. By the time you get to South Carolina, it’s gonna be all television.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 24

Whit Ayres’ comments in The New Yorker on the Republican primary contest:

At least in theory, there is plenty of time for the dynamics of the primary to shift. But is that likely?

Many political observers don’t think it is, but Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican consultant and pollster, told me on Friday that the result of the primary is more uncertain than the polls suggest. (Ayres, who has advised a broad range of G.O.P. politicians, including Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and DeSantis, isn’t currently advising any 2024 Republican candidate.) “Being honest, it’s a long shot for anybody not named Trump,” he said. “But I also think it’s premature to write anybody off.” Ayres based this conclusion on his analysis of the Republican electorate, which he says is split into three parts: Trump’s base, which is about a third of the total, and will support him under virtually any circumstance; Never Trumpers, who constitute about ten to twelve per cent of G.O.P. voters; and a voting bloc that Ayres refers to as Maybe Trumpers—Republicans who voted for Trump twice and would vote for him again if he wins the nomination, but who also think he has too much baggage and are, therefore, at least willing to consider an alternative. “The real question is whether any of the other candidates can consolidate that Maybe Trump portion of the Party,” Ayres said.

To read the full article, including more of Whit’s thoughts on the race, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 15

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Atlantic about former President Trump, indictments, and the Republican nomination:

Yet other strategists say that the response so far among both GOP voters and elected officials raises doubts about whether any legal setback can undermine Trump’s position. (The party’s bottomless willingness throughout his presidency to defend actions that previously had appeared indefensible, of course, points toward the same conclusion.) The veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres has divided the GOP electorate into three categories: about 10 percent that is “never Trump,” about 35 percent that is immovably committed to him, and about half that he describes as “maybe Trump,” who are generally sympathetic to the former president and supportive of his policies but uneasy about some of his personal actions and open to an alternative.

Those “maybe Trump” voters are the key to any coalition that can beat him in the primary race, Ayres told me, but as the polls demonstrate, they flock to his side when he’s under attack. “Many of them had conflict with siblings, with parents, sometimes with children, sometimes even with spouses, about their support for Donald Trump,” Ayres said. “And they are very defensive about it. That makes them instinctively rally to Donald Trump’s defense, because if they suggest in any way that he is not fit for office, then that casts aspersions on their own past support for him.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 13

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Boston Globe about Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, and the modern Republican party:

“Reagan has become a revered historical figure, but he’s not a particularly relevant figure in today’s GOP,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “Trump has completely redefined the GOP, so that everyone is evaluated in relationship with Trump and their attitude about him.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 15

Whit Ayres’ comments in Vox about the classified documents indictment against former President Trump and its potential impact on the nominating results:

But other strategists say that sentiments could change as the severity of the indictment and what it means for Trump’s electability sink in, especially among those in the party that GOP pollster Whit Ayres calls the “Maybe Trump” voters: people who like the former president, but also want someone who can win.

“Will the Trump pushback that this is all a partisan witch hunt be persuasive to them?” he asked. “Or will the devastating facts laid out in the indictment persuade at least some of them that Trump is carrying way too much baggage to win a general election in 2024?”

For now, he said, it’s too early to tell.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 7

Whit Ayres appeared on the PBS NewsHour last night to discuss the current state of the Republican presidential field (starting at the 6:35 mark):

https://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/3081327676/

Whit Ayres, June 7

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post about the potential impeachment hearing of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas:

GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who has long urged his party to moderate on immigration, says it remains unclear whether Republicans can produce evidence of impeachable offenses. If not, Ayres suggests, impeachment will backfire.

“If they’ve got no hard evidence,” Ayres told me, “it will just drive an image of the Republican Party that is very much at odds with the kind of party that can win elections in swing states or win a majority of the electorate in a presidential campaign.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 3

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Daily Beast on the state of the Republican Party:

“I wouldn’t jump to any premature conclusions,” cautions Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster. “At least people who understand governing, like Patrick McHenry, step up and the Twitter screamers have very little to offer. There are some good people there. When push comes to shove, and a meltdown of the economy is looming, even a system that often looks broken can function.” With that in mind, he adds with a flourish, “There’s hope, don’t be in despair all the time!”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 1

Whit Ayres’ comments in Vox on the DeSantis v. Trump battle in the Republican presidential primary:

DeSantis, once a protege of Trump, faces the challenge of consolidating enough support behind him to challenge the former president’s historically high polling margin over DeSantis.

That involves winning over both the faction of the GOP that never thought Trump was fit for office and the majority of Republican voters who are what ex-DeSantis pollster Whit Ayres calls “Maybe Trump” voters. DeSantis has to concede that he won’t win “Always Trump” voters, who represent about a third of the party, Ayres said. 

“The key for anyone challenging Trump will be to consolidate that ‘Maybe Trump’ faction of the party and maybe pick up a few of the ‘Never Trumpers,’” Ayres said. “But no candidate is going to be able to penetrate the ‘Always Trump’ third of the party. They’ve already decided who they’re going to vote for, and they’re not interested in anyone else.”

Which is why DeSantis may not be able to afford to be overly critical of Trump, and trying to beat the former president at his own game — the name-calling and personal smears, for instance — is probably a losing proposition. “Everyone who engages Donald Trump in a very personal mud fight ends up losing because he is the all-time champion of the vicious personal attack,” Ayres said. 

But DeSantis can distinguish himself on policy and his viability as a candidate. Ayres said that DeSantis would also be wise to emphasize the baggage Trump brings. That might not include Trump’s indictment in New York, which many Republican voters saw as a politically motivated attack from a Democratic district attorney, giving the former president a bump in the polls. But there may be more criminal charges and legal troubles to come. 

“The key is drawing a contrast with [Trump] on those areas where he is most vulnerable — the amount of baggage that he carries and his potential to lose to Joe Biden or whoever the Democrats come up with in 2024,” Ayres said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, May 9

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Hill regarding the effect of a No Labels presidential candidate:

“In a contest with Biden and Trump, there is no way a No Labels candidate could win,” Whit Ayres, a leading Republican pollster, told me. “That candidate couldn’t win any states; they’d get zero electoral votes.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, May 8

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Hill regarding former President Donald Trump’s position in the Republican presidential primary:

Whit Ayres, a prominent Republican pollster, said the possibility of additional indictments against Trump by the Department of Justice and the Fulton County district attorney in Georgia could swing the race away from Trump, predicting that charges from those prosecutors would have more credibility than Bragg’s indictment.  

“People seem to have an inevitable tendency to jump to premature conclusions well before we know many of the key elements of a campaign environment,” he said in response to comments by some GOP senators that Trump’s victory in next year’s primary looks inevitable.  

“What might be the political effects of serious felony indictments backed up a mountain of compelling evidence?” he asked of potential felony charges that Trump incited the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and tried to interfere in the 2020 election in Georgia.  

“Are Republican voters really going to dismiss multiple credible felony indictments backed up by substantial evidence, if indeed they occur? They might, but I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. 

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, May 1

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post regarding views of President Biden’s age and Vice President Harris’ capabilities:

Biden is in an unprecedented situation because of his low-40s approval ratings and the clear aversion many have to him running again, Republican pollster Whit Ayres said. Harris’s struggles to generate strong support from voters in either party have added complexity to Biden’s reelection prospects, Ayers added. More than dozen Democratic leaders in key states expressed concerns earlier this year about Harris’s political strength in interviews with The Washington Post.

“That’s an enormous number of people who really don’t want the incumbent president to run again,” Ayres said. “You layer on top of that the fact that the vast majority of the American people do not believe that someone in their mid-80s should try to be shouldering the enormous burdens and pressures of the presidency — and that is especially true when he has a vice president who is widely viewed by members of both parties as not ready for prime time. That is an enormous hill to climb.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, April 23

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Los Angeles Times about former President Trump’s support in the Republican primary:

“Trump is obviously the favorite, but he’s beatable,” Republican strategist Alex Conant said. “He’s beatable because the race isn’t static. The poll numbers today are not what they will be six months from now.”

GOP pollster Whit Ayres agreed and pointed to evidence that primary voters are open to other candidates.

In focus groups, he said, he’s encountered “people who voted for Trump, who like what he did as president, but they don’t think Trump can win this time. … They want somebody who has a different temperament.”

Ayres estimates that roughly a third of Republicans are unshakable “Always Trump” loyalists.

But a larger chunk of the GOP electorate, about 60%, consists of people who voted for Trump in 2016 or 2020 but are willing to consider alternatives — a group he calls “Maybe Trump.”

They’re a potential majority in Republican primaries, and that makes them the key to the nomination.

Polls suggest Ayres is right.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, April 26 (Politico)

Whit Ayres’ comments in Politico about President Biden’s low visibility campaign:

With polls showing a majority of Americans preferring that Biden not seek a second term, the campaign team has its work cut out for them. The task being to gin up support from your own base while keeping yourself off of center stage can, at times, be in conflict. But there is one way to do both: focusing attention on the Republican alternative.

“Republicans nominating Trump again plays right into Biden’s message,” GOP pollster Whit Ayres conceded. “Biden only won in 2020 by a hair in the Electoral College, and he has significant problems now. But his unobtrusiveness is not one of them. In part, that’s what he ran on: not being in your face every day.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, April 26 (Time)

Whit Ayres’ comments in Time on a potential 2020 rematch in 2024:

The most compelling thing going for him among Democrats may be that he seems likely to again face Trump. And Trump’s already lost that match-up before. “He beat Trump once and Democrats appreciate that accomplishment,” says Republican strategist Whit Ayres. But Ayres notes, “just because he beat him doesn’t mean he can beat him again.”

To read the full article, please click here.