The funniest thing about this Morning Consult graph is Ted Cruz trailing … Mitt Romney.
Right, granted, Cruz would certainly lead Romney if Trumps Sr. and Jr. weren’t also included in the survey, gobbling up the populist vote. But that’s funny in its own right: After eight years of Cruz as a senator, more GOPers prefer Trump’s sh*tposting son as a presidential nominee to the twice-elected senator from Texas.
The newsy part is that Trump’s dip in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol riot has disappeared. He’s back to the same level of support he had among Republicans in late November, when “stop the steal” had only just started rolling.
There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here that’s probably unsolvable. Did Republican voters begin moving back towards Trump on their own, dragging Republican leaders along with them? Or did Republican leaders anticipate that Republican voters would move back towards Trump and try to get ahead of them by lining up behind him, signaling that an anti-Trump view on the insurrection wouldn’t be tolerated within the party? The impeachment vote was held on January 13, right after Morning Consult had recorded that decline in Trump’s support, and yet only 10 members out of a caucus of 200+ chose to vote yes. If more had crossed the aisle with Liz Cheney, would today’s 2024 numbers look any different?
Probably not, for the simple reason that populist media would have intervened to rehabilitate Trump in GOP voters’ eyes even if Republicans in Congress hadn’t. Undecideds in Kevin McCarthy’s caucus likely calculated that Fox News and, of course, right-wing talk radio would rally to Trump’s side on the question of whether he bore responsibility for the insurrection no matter how Congress voted on impeachment. In which case, the only safe vote was to vote no. “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it’s been,” Wayne Gretzky once said. Even if GOP voters were a little more undecided on Trump than usual when the impeachment vote was held, House Republicans knew where the puck was going.
And of course, even without partisan media running interference for Trump, the klieg lights of an impeachment trial were destined to heat up partisan tribalism to the point where Republican voters would start moving back in Trump’s direction organically. An amazing data point from Morning Consult: Just 27 percent of Republicans now say Trump is at least somewhat responsible for the Capitol riot, down 14 points from early January despite the evidence produced at the trial all the reporting that’s been done about his actions before and during the insurrection since then. An even more amazing bit of data, though, is that 46 percent of Republicans say Joe Biden is somewhat responsible for what happened, which is *up* four points over the same period. How GOPers have concluded that Sleepy Joe is somehow culpable for an event he took no part in, I can’t begin to imagine. Either they’re hardcore election conspiracy theorists (“if he hadn’t rigged the election, there would have been no rally that day”) or it’s knee-jerk partisanship in its purest form. I.e. when a pollster asks if you blame Trump or Biden more for something bad that happened, a good Republican answers “Biden,” no matter what.
In fact, the ultimate test of how hot partisanship can get in the climate of impeachment is that Republican approval for impeaching Trump actually dropped several points during the trial. On February 1, 21 percent supported it. (A not insignificant share of the party, actually.) Two weeks later, just 17 percent did despite the evidence presented by Dems, including Jaime Herrera Beutler’s statement about what Trump allegedly told Kevin McCarthy on January 6. By comparison, support for impeachment among independents rose three points over the same period.
If you want the strongest evidence of how Trump has achieved a singular degree of loyalty among some Republicans, though, check out this Presidents’ Day poll from YouGov.
Some of that is due to recency bias, in which Trump is tops simply because more Republicans alive today remember his administration than they do Reagan’s. (Barack Obama was named the greatest president ever by Democrats both this year and in 2018.) Still, Reagan enjoys an exalted place in the GOP imagination, the man who saved America from liberal malaise and then won the Cold War. As recently as three years ago, as you can see in the graph, he still led Trump comfortably in earning the esteem of Republican voters despite the fact that Trump had been president for more than a year and the MAGA movement was already in motion. Fast-forward three years past two impeachments, a midterm beating, and a loss to an uncharismatic Joe Biden and he’s now easily surpassed Reagan. That may be the most unique element of the Trump phenomenon: The more setbacks he has, the more his most devoted fans double down on him. To the point where he’s now a plurality choice among Republicans as the greatest president ever.