It looks like the 2024 Republican primary will confirm just how cultishly devoted GOP voters are to four-time indictee Donald Trump.
Trump's continued domination of both national and early-state polling is at least partly due to the weakness of the Republican field. Though many GOP donors placed their early bets on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to make the Republican primary a two-person contest, it appears to have been a bad wager. DeSantis has yet to demonstrate the candidate chops necessary for the national stage.
That competitive vacuum left Trump, who has steadily racked up a bevy of criminal indictments, to consolidate the support of a Republican electorate that never stopped loving him, even if its voters were momentarily willing to entertain a Trumpy alternative.
After all the initial hand-wringing about Trump’s electability, Monmouth University released a poll last month showing 69% of Republican voters said Trump was either “definitely" (45%) or “probably" (24%) the strongest candidate to beat President Joe Biden. Again, Trump occupying that lane is partly a function of DeSantis' negligence—he hasn’t come right out and said, “Hey, Trump was a great president, but he and his handpicked candidates have lost multiple elections now.” So far, DeSantis hasn’t demonstrated an interest in pursuing that unelectability campaign against Trump.
Now, in classic cult fashion, Republican voters have adopted the belief that Trump truly is their strongest bet to beat Biden—and that the notion of any Republican candidate losing to the sitting president is laughable.
Sarah Longwell, host of “The Focus Group” podcast, noted recently that Republican voters "almost universally" believe Trump crushed it as president.
"It is taken as faith that Donald Trump was a great president who did great things for this country, who did a great job," Longwell said on "The Next Level” podcast earlier this month. Pesky details like historic job losses during COVID-19 and hundreds of thousands of Americans dying on his watch don't even register. Republican voters have effectively forgotten about the pandemic, according to Longwell.
That's the work of a cultish mindset tuning out anything that runs in conflict with its cherished worldview—in this case, a savior-like devotion to Trump.
Over the weekend, The New York Times also documented a widely held Republican belief that Biden is so addled the party couldn't possibly lose to him at the ballot box next year.
For months, Republican voters have consumed such a steady diet of clips of Mr. Biden stumbling, over words and sandbags, that they now see the 80-year-old Democratic incumbent as so frail that he would be beatable by practically any Republican — even a four-times-indicted former president who lost the last election.
“I mean, I would hope anybody could beat Joe Biden at this point,” Heather Hora, a 52-year-old Republican, told the Times.
“It’s just one gaffe after another,” Joanie Pellett, a Decatur County retiree, observed of Biden.
“What strength as a candidate?” Rick Danowsky, a Republican from Sigourney, Iowa, said about Biden. “Does he have any?”
The Times said Iowa Republicans offered similar sentiments about Biden's electoral weaknesses in 30-plus interviews over the past several weeks.
In essence, they are drinking the Kool-Aid all over again, and it's apparently even more intoxicating than before. Only a legitimate cult could believe a guy who twice lost the popular vote, was defeated in 2020, doomed an entire slate of handpicked MAGA candidates in 2022, and is now haunted by four criminal indictments is a shoo-in for 2024. J. Ann Selzer’s latest Iowa poll—conducted for Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom amid the announcement of the Georgia racketeering charge—found Trump’s lead over DeSantis grew 7 percentage points after the indictment dropped, from 18 to 25 points.
As Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas noted Monday, a CBS News/YouGov poll found 71% of Trump voters believe he is more likely to tell them the truth than their friends and family (63%), conservative media (56%), and religious leaders (42%). That is textbook cult-like fealty to a singular individual. In fact, among Republican voters who called honesty "very important," 61% support Trump, with DeSantis a distant second (17%) and the only other candidate to break double digits.
Surprises are always possible when voting begins early next year, but for now, Trump's grip on the Republican Party is besetting America once again.
Did anything happen while we were all taking a well-deserved break? Something about Donald Trump being indicted not once, but two times! Also in the news: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign collapse. So much is happening!