The perfect companion piece to the post about Moore versus Strange in Alabama. No wonder Team Strange was so desperate to get POTUS to come down there and hold a rally for him. In the end, Republicans are more loyal to the president than they are to their own party. Maybe a Trump endorsement *is* worth five points in a GOP primary, even when he’s on the opposite side of the populist in the race. If that’s how it shakes out on Tuesday night, with Trump’s eleventh-hour rally for Strange singlehandedly boosting him past Moore, he really will hold the party in the palm of his hand. Imagine the terror other red-state senators will feel at crossing him knowing that he now has the power to decide primaries.
These numbers can’t be explained entirely in terms of Trump’s cult of personality, but that’s obviously a factor. “If you would go to my county Republican clubs right now, they are all about Trump,” said GOP Rep. Tom Rooney to the NYT a few weeks ago. “He is the party.”
Views of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Trump supporters: 13 percent positive, 34 percent negative
Party supporters: 36 percent positive, 14 percent negative…
Satisfied with GOP leaders
Trump supporters: 27 percent
Party supporters: 51 percent…
Approve of Trump’s handling of race relations
Trump supporters: 72 percent
Party supporters: 38 percent…
Approve of Trump’s handling of Charlottesville
Trump supporters: 55 percent
Party supporters: 31 percent
Trump’s approval rating among self-defined Trump supporters is … 99 percent. Paul Ryan’s net job approval among Trump supporters is +2; among party supporters it’s +62. Proof that the GOP is now effectively two separate parties, right? Well, not so fast. Party supporters approve of Trump’s job performance to the tune of 84 percent. And although Trump supporters hate the idea of keeping DACA going, with only 15 percent in favor, just 32 percent of party supporters like the idea. There’s still plenty of common ground between the groups. Party supporters seem to be generally more moderate than Trump supporters, with higher numbers supporting birthright citizenship and opposing Trump’s climate-change policy, but the main differences between them have to do with intangibles. In addition to the race-related questions above, 50 percent of Trump supporters back his Twitter use versus a mere 31 percent of party supporters who do so. It’s not that party supporters hate him or anything; again, note that job approval number. I think it’s that they support him more or less to the same degree that the rank-and-file of a party supports any president from their own side. That’s where the cult of personality comes in. “Party supporters” feel comfortable disliking certain things about him. For self-defined “Trump supporters,” the loyalty goes much deeper than partisan politics as usual.
I’d kill to see data like this from a poll conducted circa 2009 among Democrats about Obama. He had a robust cult of personality too. Comparing the spread between “Obama supporters” and “Democratic supporters” would give us a sense of how unusual or *not* unusual the GOP divide here is. I can see it possibly going both ways. There’s no doubt that Republicans right now are more ideologically divided than Democrats were eight years ago. The left grumbled during the ObamaCare process that Dems didn’t push harder for a public option but there was nothing at the time like the bitter nationalist/conservative split on the right. (They’re catching up lately with the split between Berniebro socialists and Clinton-style neoliberals.) On the other hand, Obama took office as a quasi-messianic figure, the first black president, the man who would heal America after eight tumultuous years of Bush and 400 years of poisoned race relations. Could you have gotten a 58/38 split among Dems in September 2009 on whether they considered themselves more loyal to that messiah than to the party? Doesn’t seem far-fetched.
Especially when you consider that it’ll always be easier to identify with an individual politician than it will something as messy and amorphous as a party. It’s not just a matter of Republican voters preferring Trump’s style to the more politically correct Republican establishment. It’s a matter of the party being all over the map, pulled in contrary directions by its competing factions. Ask an average Republican what Trump wants on health care and they’d probably tell you something like “He wants more coverage for everyone but at better prices.” (The best coverage. Really terrific.) Ask them what the *party* wants on health care and — who the hell knows. Clearly they want to get rid of the mandate and Medicaid to the greatest extent politically possible but beyond that their goal isn’t much more visionary than passing whatever slop can get 50 votes. It’s a cliche but true that Trump succeeded last year in the primaries partly because his message was simple and clear — build the wall, renegotiate trade deals, bomb the sh*t out of ISIS. Almost by definition, a party can’t muster that sort of clarity. Particularly when it’s dealing with the ideological friction that the GOP is right now.