From either Fantasy Land or Dystopia, Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio claims he polled 400 likely South Dakota Republican primary voters and found that John Thune would lose a primary to Kristi Noem but crush Dusty Johnson:
Within 48 hours of Thune, R-S.D., announcing his re-election campaign Saturday, the American Potential Fund began polling the state’s likely GOP voters. The survey determined Thune could lose a primary by 9 percentage points to Gov. Kristi Noem and could face a spirited challenge from Dusty Johnson, South Dakota’s lesser-known U.S. representative, according to a polling memo, obtained by NBC News, that the political committee circulated to donors and political insiders Thursday [Marc Caputo, “Trump Allies Have Knives Out for Sen. Thune as He Embarks on Re-Election Bid,” NBC News, 2022.01.13].
Really, Trumpists? More than a year after Trump flung his clueless primary threat against Thune, more than a year after Noem almost immediately said no way, you keep beating this horse? Is New York pollster Fabrizio, whose polls are as reliable as a coin flip, even aware of who’s actually running for Senate in South Dakota? Thune faces three no-name challengers precisely because Noem and Johnson are happy with the jobs they have and know better than to upset the party establishment with a bloody campaign against a Senate veteran with more cash on hand ($14.8M) than both of them put together (Johnson $1.7M; Noem allegedly $6.5 million, but that state cash can’t transfer directly to a Senate campaign).
But ugh—if we take these poll numbers at face value, they make a disheartening point about the South Dakota Republican primary electorate. When a sitting Senator would lose by nine points to one challenger but win by seventeen over another, the polled voters aren’t expressing any deep convictions about policy or performance. And the difference is not prominence: NBC’s characterization of Dusty Johnson as “lesser-known” applies only outside South Dakota. Every South Dakota voter who knows John Thune also knows Dusty Johnson. Scrappy Dusty has forged a dynamic presence in South Dakota’s psyche that ensures he’ll get as many Heys and handshakes as Tall John when he walks into any given ice cream shop. And Dusty is the biggest policy wonk of the bunch. If it weren’t for partisan politics, Dusty would sit and write laws and solve real problems every day at a faster clip than Noem and Thune combined.
But the South Dakota Republican voters Fabrizio called aren’t looking for policymakers or problem solvers. They’re looking for someone to scratch their ids. They’re looking for someone who looks hot on a poster. This poll reads less like the responses of thoughtful citizens seeking to produce good policy and more like the results of a high school popularity contest: the pretty cheerleader gets the most votes; the basketball champ comes next; the scrawny (and I say this with love, Dusty) nerd finishes last.
Fabrizio’s poll is an exercise in fantasy, useless to the people actually running for Senate. It shows no weakness that any real challengers in the primary or the general can use to beat Thune. It only shows the weakness of thinking among some select South Dakota Republican voters.