Bottom line: They still like Donald Trump – a lot.
The poll’s analysis sees the Republicans as consisting of five separate tribes, four of which are well disposed towards Trump. And the hostile tribe – designated as Never Trump – is the second smallest, accounting for only 15 per cent of Republicans.
Overall, some 88 per cent approve of Trump’s performance as president. That, mind you, doesn’t mean that all those who approve of him want him to run again. But it does indicate a strong base of support.
Responding to the question of who to vote for if a presidential primary were held today, 51 per cent picked Trump. None of the other 15 listed candidates broke double digits. Hypothetically, Trump would sweep the field.
Of course, there’ll be no primary before 2024. And much can happen in the interim.
Trump’s grip could erode as passions cool and time passes. His health could visibly fail. He could decide he’s not interested in running again. Or the New York investigation into his pre-presidential finances could yield politically disabling results.
Then there’s the question of what would transpire if Trump isn’t a candidate. Current data indicates two things:
First, there’s no heir apparent. Mike Pence may be the former vice-president but he doesn’t in any sense dominate the prospective field. He’s not the presumptive leader.
And second, there’s no opportunity for anyone who chooses to run as the anti-Trump. Establishment figures like Mitt Romney have limited appeal. By a margin of better than four-to-one, poll respondents self-identify as Trump Republicans rather than Bush Republicans.
This has implications for anyone choosing to run. At minimum, it requires avoiding any significant or sustained criticism of Trump.
While it may not be necessary to emulate his personal style or attempt to cast oneself as the second coming, generating outright hostility would be fatal. Neither he nor his diehard supporters would stand for it.
Absent Trump, the Republican field will likely be large.
Some will be repeats from 2016 – for instance, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Running for president can get in your blood, particularly if ambition came calling early.
Pence will almost certainly give it a go, as will former governor of South Carolina and UN ambassador Nikki Haley.
And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a rising dark horse. A graduate of Yale and Harvard, and an Iraq War veteran, DeSantis is America’s youngest current governor. He’ll be 46 in 2024.
Trump likes him and he polls well among Trump supporters. Even Jeb Bush – the antithesis of Trump in Republican circles – is a fan.
But will the nomination be a desirable prize in 2024?
Many commentators believe the Republicans’ best days are behind them. Democrats currently control the presidency and both congressional houses. In addition, inexorable demographic trends will steadily amplify that advantage.
Still, a prudent observer would examine all the facts on the ground. And the reality is that the Democratic triumph in 2020 was iffier – and thus more fragile – than one might think.
Presidentially, the combined margin in three critical states – Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia – was less than 43,000 votes. So if just a fraction of a percentage point had strategically shifted in those three states, Trump would’ve flipped them, creating a 269/269 electoral college tie.
In that circumstance, the presidency would’ve been decided by the House of Representatives, with each of the states having a single vote. And as Republicans held the majority in 26 of the 50 state delegations, Trump would’ve been re-elected.
As for the Senate, it’s actually 50/50. Democratic control is purely a function of the sitting vice-president getting to break ties.
The House, meanwhile, saw unanticipated Democratic losses. While they still hold a majority, it’s very slender and might disappear in the 2022 midterms.
Below the federal level, the Republican position is even stronger. Despite significant financial investment, Democrats failed to flip a single state legislature. In fact, the Republican advantage at the state level was marginally enhanced by the 2020 results.
So the 2024 Republican nomination will be a prize worth winning. It won’t be an automatic ticket to the White House but neither will it be an also-ran consolation prize.
Troy Media columnist Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well perhaps a little bit. For interview requests, click here.