Trump’s GOP rivals say he’s unelectable. Polls disagree.

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A group of Republicans will march onto the debate stage Wednesday night to argue that each of them could stave off another Donald Trump defeat against President Joe Biden.

Polling increasingly shows it’s not true.

Far from being an electoral liability, the former president is starting to lead — or at the very least tie — Biden in general election polling.

Not only is Trump the top choice of a growing majority of Republican primary voters in national surveys, but Republicans overwhelmingly think he’s the candidate with the best chance of beating Biden next fall. And poll after poll suggests Biden and Trump are essentially tied with just over a year until the general election.

That undermines many of the arguments Trump’s rivals made last month at the first debate. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called on Republicans not to focus on the 2020 election and instead to “look forward” and adopt “the message that can win in November of 2024.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who’s vaulted to third place in the polls behind only Trump and DeSantis, went further.

“We have to face the fact that Trump is the most disliked politician in America,” she said. “We can’t win a general election that way.”

So as seven of Trump’s lower-polling rivals prepare to take the stage in Southern California, let’s look at how the race has changed from the first debate and what to make of the “Trump won’t win” case still being peddled by his opponents.

GOP voters continue to see Trump as the most electable candidate, but DeSantis and Haley have cases to make

DeSantis and Haley may be trying to convince Republicans that they’re better bets to oust Biden next November, but so far GOP voters aren’t buying it.

A Monmouth University poll out this week asked Republican voters whether they saw Trump as the strongest Republican candidate for beating Biden: Nearly half, 48 percent, said Trump “definitely” was the strongest candidate, and another 24 percent said he was “probably” the strongest. That combined 72 percent marked an increase from 63 percent who thought Trump was the strongest candidate in May.

Only a quarter of Republicans, 25 percent, said another Republican would “definitely” or “probably” be a stronger general-election candidate than Trump.

That doesn’t mean DeSantis and Haley are going to cede the electability argument in the second showdown.

A pre-debate memo authored by DeSantis campaign manager James Uthmeier called the Florida governor “the only candidate that can beat both Joe Biden and Donald Trump,” a nod to DeSantis’ second-place position and generally positive image with Republican primary voters.

In this week’s NBC News poll, even though DeSantis trails Trump by a yawning 43-point margin, 59 percent to 16 percent, he’s still the second choice of 37 percent of Republicans. When first- and second-choice votes are added together, Trump is at 70 percent, but DeSantis isn’t too far behind with 53 percent. No other candidate is even above 20 percent.

The latest RealClearPolitics averages show Biden leading DeSantis by 2.5 points nationally, compared to Trump’s 1.5-point lead over Biden. Still, the president isn’t elected by national popular vote, and DeSantis — who won a landslide reelection victory in Florida last year — could be better equipped to claw back some of the Sun Belt states Trump lost to Biden in 2020, like the traditionally Republican states of Arizona and Georgia.

Haley potentially has a stronger electability case to make, based on the polling. She isn’t offered as often as Trump or DeSantis by pollsters as a Biden opponent, but a sparse RealClearPolitics average shows Haley leading Biden by 4.3 points.

Haley actually had a slight lead over Biden in the NBC News poll, 46 percent to 41 percent, compared to a tied race between Biden and Trump and an insignificant 1-point Biden lead against DeSantis. Her campaign touted that result in a press release on Tuesday, calling Haley “the only candidate who handily beats” Biden, and viewers should expect to hear the same message in this debate.

Haley up, Ramaswamy down: How the race has changed since the first debate

It’s easy to look at the overriding reality of the GOP primary — Trump’s increasing dominance over the field — and conclude that last month’s first debate did little to alter the race.

But the debate did seem to reorder the candidates beneath Trump, setting the stage for a more consolidated opposition to nominating the criminally indicted former president.

After months of steep decline, DeSantis may have steadied his campaign a bit: The RealClearPolitics national average shows him at 14.5 percent — more than 42 points behind Trump but essentially unchanged from his 14.3 average on Aug. 23, the day of the first debate.

Meanwhile, Haley has bounced into third place, from 3.2 percent on Aug. 23 to 5.6 percent today.

She supplanted businessperson Vivek Ramaswamy, who was the subject of more attacks during the first debate than any other candidate. Ramaswamy has dipped about 2 points, from 7.2 percent going into the debate to 5.1 percent now.

The other candidates to qualify for Wednesday’s debate — former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — are at 4 percent or lower, roughly where they were before the first debate.

Trump, meanwhile, has actually gained some ground since the first debate. He’s at 57 percent in the latest RealClearPolitics average, up from 55.4 percent on Aug. 23.

Though it may seem like Trump is an unstoppable force, Trump did see a dip in the week or two after skipping the first gathering, suggesting the other candidates could actually use Wednesday night’s debate to weaken Trump’s stranglehold over the primary. Still, Trump’s numbers are slightly higher now than they were before the first debate.

What to actually make of Trump’s lead over Biden (Hint: It’s not 10 points.)

An ABC News/Washington Post poll this week had the political class chattering because it showed Trump 10 points ahead of Biden among registered voters. But that’s quite likely an outlier; the balance of public polling pegs the likely Biden-Trump rematch next fall as a tighter race than Biden’s 2020 victory.

Of the 14 other polls in the RealClearPolitics database conducted in September: Trump led in 5, Biden led in 5 and the two men were tied in the other 4. And even pollsters worry that Trump's potential presence on the ballot could make polling less accurate.

Four years ago, when Biden was struggling to assert himself in the Democratic primary, his campaign pointed to public polls that showed he would be the strongest Democrat against Trump.

And the numbers were striking. As of this date in 2019, Biden held a 9.5-point lead over Trump, according to the RealClearPolitics average. Biden was up double digits in Sept. 2019 polls from Fox News (14 points) and ABC News/Washington Post (15 points).

Most Democrats and even some Republicans believe the latest polls overstate Trump’s position, given Biden’s weak marks with key parts of the Democratic coalition — like young voters and African-Americans — they view as likely to come home over the next 13 months.

But the Biden campaign and its allies are working to bring those voters back now, running ads in the swing states they’ve identified as essential to the president’s reelection bid: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There’s a dearth of polling from those states for now, so the national surveys serve as imperfect proxies for the Electoral College race.

The fact that we’re talking about the general election underscores how uncompetitive the GOP primary has been so far. It’s not clear whether anything that happens on the Trump-less stage Wednesday night will change that, but the electability argument isn’t the silver bullet the former president’s competitors had hoped it would be.