As Republicans eye the midterms, they find themselves beholden to Donald Trump, the de facto GOP leader whose base is dwindling even as those who remain loyal to him grow more radicalized and intensely devoted.
Trump is still the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP nomination in 2024 if he runs, but his hold on the party is clearly slipping. From his unpopular promotion of vaccines to his polling and his flagging endorsements in high-profile races, Trump no longer resembles the invincible iron man he once was within the party.
As we have noted repeatedly in recent weeks, multiple polls now suggest that Trump could be vulnerable to a challenge from his right flank. His promotions of vaccines and boosters have proven unpopular, and GOP voters who consider themselves a “Trump supporter” rather than a supporter of the Republican Party have dropped by double digits in Civiqs polling over the last year, from 57% in Jan. 2022 to 43% in Jan. 2021.
A recent Associated Press survey found that 44% of Republicans said they do not want Trump to run for president again, according to the New York Times.
Trump’s advantage over top challenger Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has also slipped by double digits since October 2020, when it was 40 points, to just 25 points today, according to GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini.
In the meantime, several of Trump’s endorsements have either failed to consolidate the field or been rejected entirely by his Trumpist base. In North Carolina, former Rep. Mark Walker has decided to stay in the race for the state’s open Senate seat, yielding a far more competitive field for Trump endorsee Rep. Ted Budd.
And in Tennessee, pro-Trump allies have staged a revolt against his endorsement last week of Morgan Ortagus, who had committed GOP apostasy by being photographed with President Joe Biden and having her wedding officiated by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Very shortly after Trump endorsed Ortagus for Congress if she runs, MAGA fanatic Candace Owens tweeted, “Trump has this completely wrong.”
“Trump is now firmly in the establishment camp,” tweeted John Cardillo, another right-wing personality.
The big dilemma congressional Republicans now find themselves in is the fact that they have hung their hats on Trump and are now largely, if not totally, tied to his fate even as he loses sway among the broader GOP base.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus are desperate to make the midterm elections a referendum on Biden’s policies. At the same time, Trump continues to obsess over his 2020 election loss and lob messaging grenades into the election cycle.
During a rally in Texas over the weekend, Trump went full fascist, calling for nationwide protests if he is indicted in any one of multiple investigations into his corrupt business practices and efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
Trump also promised to pardon defendants of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol if he runs and wins in 2024.
“We will treat them fairly,” Trump said of the charged insurrectionists, some of whom have been convicted. “And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.”
As much as Republicans have been assuring reporters that 2020 will be about Biden, Trump is making damn sure that he and his 2020 coup attempt will be taking center stage this cycle.