In recent weeks, the US press has spread speculation that Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican Party could slip, citing, in particular, the fallout of the committee of January 6, an apparent rift with the Murdoch media empire and the rise of the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis as a plausible alternative.
This speculation appears to be swaying the public: Predictit, a political betting marketplace, is now offering Trump and DeSantis nearly equal odds for being the Republican presidential candidate of 2024.
But there is more than a whiff of wishful thinking in these daydreams, an almost voluntary forgetfulness of the many previous times when Trump’s predictions of decline proved false. The results of Tuesday’s Republican primary seemed a stark reminder of reality: In elections in five states, including the swinging states of Arizona and Michigan, Trump’s loyalists won contests up and down the ballot.
In Arizona, Senate candidate Blake Masters e likely candidate for governor Kari Lake they are the deniers of the 2020 election approved by Trump. In Michigan, candidate for governor Tudor Dixon is cut from a similar fabric. Michigan Representative Peter Meijer, one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment in 2021, lost his reelection candidacy due to yet another Trump-backed Big Lie supporter (two other supporters of Trump’s House impeachment, Washington representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse, seemed well on their way to fending off Trump-backed challengers in the Washington State open primary). Rusty Bowers, the Arizona House speaker and lead witness on the Jan.6 commission, lost the state Senate primary to – you guessed it – a Trump-backed electoral conspiracy theorist.
It’s a splash of cold water on the narrative of a declining Trump.
“The experts who try to make a GOP exist that has moved beyond him are far beyond the facts”, that of the Atlantic Ron Brownstein wrote Wednesday morning. “This remains a Trump-ified GOP, with most openly embracing it and almost none openly addressing it.”
Brownstein is right. And he’s right for a fundamental reason: Trump’s vision of politics, a war between real Americans and a system that has betrayed them, describes how many Republican voters see the world. And as long as Trump is available, they’re unlikely to opt for any knockoffs.
The numbers speak for themselves: it is still Trump’s party
The simplest barometer of whether Trump still dominates the party is the presidential polls of 2024. And from that metric, Trump’s grip is pretty hard to question.
RealClearPolitics’ poll average sees Trump in the lead with an average of 26.2 points. All but one of the national polls cataloged by FiveThirtyEight in July saw Trump beat DeSantis by an equally large double-digit margin (the only outlier, from Suffolk University, had Trump “just” 9 points ahead).
Of course, any challenger against an “incumbent” like Trump will likely not appear on many voters’ radars this far before the election. But much of the “Trump is slipping” coverage skips over this whole vital context. For example, The New York Times recently released an account of its poll with Siena College titled “Half of GOP voters are ready to leave Trump behind, poll finds.” And indeed, the poll found that 51% of Republicans would vote for someone other than Trump if the primary were held today.
Yet the title is misleading. The Times poll found Trump still garnered 49% support in the party; its next closest rival, DeSantis, only scored 25%. In the article, reporter Michael Bender notes that the results show that “Mr. Trump maintains his leadership in the party ”, contradicting the title of the piece.
Much has also been said about the apparent turnaround against Trump in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. In recent weeks, the Murdoch-owned New York Post and the Wall Street Journal have both published editorials blaming Trump for his role in the January 6 Capitol uprising. “It has been more than 100 days since Donald J. Trump was interviewed on Fox News,” reported The New York Times, noting that DeSantis appeared to have taken over as the main guest Trump once occupied.
But we’ve been here before. Remember when Fox went to war with Trump during the 2016 primary, culminating in a fight between Trump and Megyn Kelly? We know how it turned out.
Murdoch, as Margaret Sullivan, a Washington Post media columnist, argues, is driven by cold calculations: his properties will dump Trump only if that doesn’t alienate their audience and cost them money. He will not lead the Republican Party against Trump, despite his personal aversion to the man, but will instead follow the direction he is receiving from his readers and viewers. That’s why Fox eventually aligned with Trump in 2016, stayed with him throughout his presidency, and is unlikely to truly abandon him in the absence of clear signs that the base has moved on.
And so far, there is little evidence they have. The metrics used to suggest that Trump is in eclipse – such as a poll finding that only a majority of Republicans (rather than a supermajority) believe the 2020 election has been stolen, or that DeSantis is doing large fundraising numbers – appear pale in comparison to more direct measures of his support, such as head-to-head polls and the success of his primary endorsements in the 2022 contests.
At this point, it would be foolish to treat Trump as anything but the party leader and the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination in 2024.
The Trumpian soul of the GOP
If you read the studies on the American conservative movement, Trump’s continued strength shouldn’t come as a surprise. The political strength of the movement never came from his political ideas. Many of his positions, such as tax cuts for the rich and severe restrictions on abortion, ultimately proved extremely unpopular.
Instead, its strength has been rooted in grievance: the bitterness of those who believe that modern America is changing too fast, beyond recognition, turning “traditional” citizens into foreigners in their own country.
A charitable observer might call this sentimental nostalgia for a bygone America. A more critical one might call it an outlet for the reactionary anger of white males against a more egalitarian country. But whatever your assessment, it is this politics of cultural resentment that drives the basis of the GOP.
And no one is better than Donald Trump at channeling it.
Central to Trump’s success has been his ability to tap into the sense of loss: “Make American Great Yet”- and direct that anger against the traditional GOP elite, Democrats, minorities and even the US electoral system itself. His stardom and his charisma – two traits Ron DeSantis lacks – have allowed him to build an unprecedented personal bond with this segment of the electorate.
And it is this connection that, again and again, has shown that Trump’s predictions of decline are premature.
There have been many such predictions. Virtually from the moment he slid down Trump Tower’s gold escalators to launch his campaign, experts have identified events they thought would destroy him: the crude insults thrown at John McCain in 2015, the Access Hollywood tape. in 2016, the “very good people The Charlottesville Commentary in 2017, the Mid-Term Democratic Wave in 2018, the Mueller Survey and Report in 2019, the Failed Coronavirus Response in 2020, the January 6 attack in 2021. Each time, observers predicted that Trump would be the beginning of the end – that his supporters or the Republican leadership would abandon him, leading to the destruction of his political career.
Yet despite such setbacks, Trump has maintained his grip on the party. Faced with the most undeniable setback of all, his defeat in the 2020 election, he simply chose to lie and claim he won – and Republicans decided, by overwhelming margins, to believe him. He has started an honest revolt against the Capitol and his supporters still see him as the patriot par excellence.
The broad coalition of people opposing Trump’s assault on American democracy – Democrats, Independents, Mai Trump Republicans – must disabuse the naïve notion that elite conservatives, especially the Republican leadership and the C-suite of Fox News, will somehow put an end to the threat. At this point, it’s not clear that they really want it and that they may not be able to even if they try.
There is a demand-side problem in American politics that many have chosen not to confront. Trump may have lost in 2020, but his 74 million popular votes are second in American history (Biden’s 81 million is number 1). Those 74 million is 10 million more than it got in 2016. Millions of people who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 saw what the country went through in four years and said, “I’d like more, please.”
This alone is enough to make republican elites think about abandoning him. And when it narrows openness to internal republican dynamics, the picture is even more dire: the party base and grassroots activists are dominated by wool-dyed Trumpists, the kind of people who just bounced Peter Meijer out of the way. assignment. Republicans who turn to him, even influential and pedigreed ones like representative Liz Cheney, risk total marginalization within the party.
It’s not impossible for Trump’s numbers to slide permanently and eventually be supplanted by DeSantis or some similar figure. But all of our experience with the Trump phenomenon suggests that this is implausible at best – and, even if it does, it will be less of a defenestration of Trump and more of someone else finding a way to take his cloak without openly rejecting him.
“The speech ‘Trump’s grip on the GOP is slipping’ misses the point entirely,” writes Sarah Longwell, pollster and eminent conservative of Never Trump. “Trump the man may lose altitude, but the forces he unleashed have overtaken the entire party. Trump may leave, but a GOP full of eccentrics and conspiracists will be his lasting legacy. “
But it is for this reason that the Trump man is unlikely to slip. At the moment, no one has understood how to direct “the forces he unleashed” as effectively as he does: his personality is a fundamental part of the Trump phenomenon.
Fox News knows it, Mitch McConnell knows it and the GOP establishment knows it. They can signal their hesitation, they can hide here and there. But they know it’s still Trump’s party. As long as Trump breathes, Trumpism is unlikely without him.