You can look at this poll in one of two ways. Obviously, it affirms everyone’s suspicion that most of the party is still extreeeeemely Trumpy and is apt to punish members of Congress who aren’t as extreme in their affection.
The more interesting part is that the Trump-skeptical segment of the party is larger than we might expect. I’ve joked before that Never Trump is really just six guys chatting in the NRO break room but it’s only a half-joke. The truly committed anti-Trumpers in the party likely remain a negligible fraction. A much more significant minority is the group that isn’t necessarily “committed” to opposing him but hasn’t liked what they’ve seen over the past three months and seems ready to move past him. There aren’t enough of those people to save Liz Cheney from a primary defeat, probably, but there certainly are enough of them to make Trump winning a second term impossible potentially if he doesn’t rehab himself somehow.
Scroll through the Republican data in the CBS/YouGov survey and you’ll find 20 percent or thereabouts — and sometimes more — endorsing anti-Trump views of impeachment and the current state of the GOP:
— 17 percent of Republicans want to see him convicted
— 16 percent say they’re more likely to support a Republican for reelection who votes to convict
— 21 percent believe Trump encouraged the violence at the Capitol
— 22 percent think the trial is a means of defending democracy
— 27 percent say it’s either not too important or not important at all for Republicans to show loyalty to Trump
— 29 percent say those Republicans who voted to impeach or convict are “principled”
— 30 percent would stick with the GOP even if Trump founded his own party
— 34 percent now agree that Biden won the election legitimately
Again, the pro-Trump faction on all of these questions *far* outnumbers the anti-Trump one, which explains why the former president is on his way to an easy acquittal this week. But the size of the anti-Trump faction is such that the GOP would be in trouble if even, say, 10 percent of them decided to become “Red Dog Democrats.” Biden won just six percent of Republicans in November according to the exit polls, scarcely better than Trump winning five percent of Democrats. That could change if the GOP triples down on Trump in 2024. It feels like a reversal of the dynamic five years ago, when an abortive movement to block Trump from the nomination at the convention was organized by tea-partiers like Mike Lee. That movement fizzled for the obvious reason that, even if Trump commanded only 25 percent of the party, that 25 percent could hand the election to Democrats by boycotting in November to protest the party refusing to make Trump its nominee.
The opposite is now true as well, though. Make Trump the nominee three years from now and maybe you flip another five percent of Republicans into the Democratic column. And that’s all it would take to all but assure defeat.
Another way to look at the numbers above, assuming they’re accurate, is that Liz Cheney’s impeachment vote made the House GOP leadership approximately as anti-Trump as the party writ large is. She’s 25 percent of the leadership; meanwhile, as noted, 27 percent of Republicans say it’s not too important to show loyalty to Trump. Zooming out to the caucus at large, just 10 of 210 House Republicans — less than five percent — voted to impeach. But again, as noted, 17 percent of GOP voters want Trump convicted.
It’s not true that Republicans in Congress are Trumpier in their hearts than the party at large, of course, and we’d see that if every vote were conducted by secret ballot, as Cheney’s leadership win was. But fear of being primaried has effectively made them Trumpier than the party in the aggregate, for rational reasons: It’s small comfort to say that you represent 25 percent of the party when you’re facing an angry 75 percent in an election against a loud-and-proud MAGA Republican.
Which no doubt explains this amusing story from over the weekend:
Kevin McCarthy tried to get Liz Cheney to apologize for how she handled her vote to impeach former President Trump before last week’s highly anticipated House GOP conference meeting — a request she refused, two people with direct knowledge told Axios…
McCarthy, who hesitated in the first place about holding a vote to oust Cheney, told her privately hours before Wednesday’s caucus meeting that their members wanted to hear her say she was sorry.
He also suggested it could sway some of her opponents.
I don’t know what’s more alarming, that McCarthy would ask her to apologize for casting a vote that was both brave and righteous or that McCarthy, the GOP leader, would have a far worse sense of the sentiment within his caucus than Cheney herself did. Either way, his stance of being pro-Cheney but also pro-apology jibes with the data above. He knows there’s a meaningful minority within the Republican base who agrees with her and he doesn’t want those people feeling they’re unwelcome inside the big GOP tent. But he also knows that 75 is greater than 25. A contrite Liz Cheney would have been an absurd sight (and bad politics given how it would have signaled weakness) but it would have served McCarthy’s aim of keeping the party together.
In lieu of an exit question, read Adam Kinzinger’s new op-ed on why convicting Trump is the only way to save America — which is a bad sign for America if true, since we all know how the verdict is going to go. Between Kinzinger’s continued outspokenness and Cheney giving that no-holds-barred interview to Fox two days ago, there’s a very small but distinct “DGAF caucus” in the House now. Some of the people who are getting primaried and know there’s nothing they can do to change that at this point have decided not to hold back.
Update: I didn’t see this question in skimming the poll but Patterico’s right that it’s noteworthy. Maybe the real 70/30 division in the party isn’t pro-Trump and anti-Trump but pro-coup and anti-coup.
This is the clear takeaway from that CBS poll. Not the stuff about impeachment, or loyalty to Donald Trump, or anything else. This. pic.twitter.com/zktKIXfsYx
— Patterico (@Patterico) February 9, 2021