Yesterday’s poll out of Utah surprised me but this national poll surprises me more. Especially since it comes from a Trump-friendly pollster in Rasmussen and involves a sample of likely voters, not Republicans generally. Likely voters are the people who are most amped up to defend the president, you’d expect.

Which is not to say this is a “good” poll for Romney, exactly. Republican voters dislike him.

Just not enough to formally excommunicate him.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 39% of Likely Republican Voters think Romney should be expelled from the Republican Party. Only slightly more (43%) disagree, while nearly one-in-five (18%) are undecided.

Sixty-four percent (64%) of Republicans now have an unfavorable opinion of the man who was the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, with 38% who view him Very Unfavorably. That compares to 47% and 29% respectively last October. Thirty percent (30%) still share a favorable view of the Utah senator, down from 41% four months ago, including 17% with a Very Favorable one…

Romney, during the 2016 presidential campaign and since his election to the Senate in 2018, has been a consistent Trump critic. But 63% of GOP voters think their party should be more like Trump than like Romney. Thirty percent (30%) say it should be more like Romney.

He’s at 48/43 favorability nationally thanks to a predictable surge in support from Democrats but he’s hurt himself within the party without question. On the other hand, I’d have guessed that the share of GOPers who said the party should be more like him instead of like Trump would have been no higher than 10-15 percent or so given Trump’s sky-high job approval among Republicans lately. That helps explain why the numbers against expulsion are higher than expected: Right off the top, nearly a third of the GOP believes Romney is a better exemplar of Republicanism than the president is. Whether that’s due to character differences or to a personal preference for business-class Republicanism is hard to say, but probably more the former. For all his populist bravado, Trump’s been pretty good to the business class.

What accounts for the rest of the 43 percent opposed to kicking Romney out, though? There’s probably some segment of “soft” Trump supporters who think his vote on impeachment was wrong on the merits but who, like the Utahns in yesterday’s poll, respect him for having had the nerve to cast it knowing how it would cost him within the party. Some Republicans, maybe most, want blind loyalty to the president from Congress. But some meaningful minority may find the sheer toadyism of congressional Republicans towards Trump unworthy of respect, even if they prefer to have party unity on most issues.

Or is that too optimistic? The truth could be simpler — when the Senate is as tight as 53/47, you just don’t have the luxury of forcing Romney to become an independent. Republicans may be willing to punish him but they’re not willing to shoot themselves in the foot to do it.

There may be another hidden factor here. Although Republicans in Congress usually reliably parrot Trump’s talking points, they’ve been noticeably shy about laying into Romney. The usual suspects in the House have done it, but among his colleagues in the Senate the harshest thing anyone has had to say is that they’re “disappointed” before changing the subject.

At the first closed-door party lunch since the impeachment trial, there wasn’t a single word uttered about Romney’s stunning decision to find Trump “guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.”…

“The president’s going to do what he’s going to do. That’s his M.O. when it comes to politics, and that’s not going to change no matter what any of us think or feel,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “But it won’t change [Romney’s] standing in the Senate.”

“Everybody understands that occasions are going to arise invariably where they are going to have to vote their conscience and it’s going to make them an outlier for the conference. I think we all respect that,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.

Even Thom Tillis went to bat for Romney when asked. He’s facing a tough election this fall in purplish North Carolina and has clung tightly to Trump for the past two years, believing that strong populist turnout is his only hope of winning, but not this time: “Go back and objectively look at Mitt’s record. He’s been a member in good standing.” Why Republican senators are pulling their punches is itself a complicated question. Possibly it’s a matter of pure comity; possibly it’s Romney’s reward for not accusing those who voted for acquittal of doing Trump’s bidding; possibly it’s because they secretly agreed with his vote to remove and/or at least respect his willingness to cast that vote; possibly it’s because they know the day may come when they feel compelled for reasons of conscience to oppose Trump in a big spot too and don’t want to be a punching bag when they do. (Nah, I’m kidding. None of them except Romney would ever do that.)

In any case, in an alternate dimension where the likes of McConnell and Graham and Ted Cruz are beating the drum on Fox News every day to expel Romney, I bet these numbers would be higher. Which itself is a minor surprise: Like most people, I tend to assume that Republican voters take all of their political cues from Trump nowadays. That’s mostly true, but amplification of his message by other party leaders may matter at the margins — enough to ensure plurality opposition to Romney’s expulsion in this case.

There may, of course, be another reason why they’re pulling their punches. Romney isn’t the influencer within the party that he was circa 2012, to put it mildly, but he has a lot lot lot of rich Republican friends by dint of his business career and the extensive donor network he cultivated for his national campaign eight years ago. In fact, he flew down to Florida for a fundraiser on behalf of the NRSC just last weekend and claimed there was no awkwardness at the event, even though Mike Pence was also there. (He said his recent meeting with Republican leaders back home in Utah was a little different.) If you’re a Senate Republican inclined to bash him, you run the risk of alienating some of his fatcat buddies who might otherwise be willing to cut a couple of checks to your campaign and Super PAC. Best to play nice and try to stay on everyone’s good side.

Here’s Trump reacting Trumpishly when Romney’s name was mentioned by reporters in yesterday’s Oval Office gaggle.