Yesterday I noted that there were two conversations going on in the GOP. One is party elites and officeholders finally distancing themselves or fully cutting ties with Donald Trump. The other is GOP voters themselves. They only started to make themselves heard yesterday afternoon when they booed and heckled Paul Ryan, Nevada Senate candidate Joe Heck and others in afternoon rallies. We can now see them in a fuller light in the first post-Trump Tape poll.
The poll is from Politico and Morning Consult. I’ve stated elsewhere that I’m somewhat skeptical of the methodology used by MC and some similar digital pollsters. But in this case we’re not talking about matters of a few percentage points in a horse race poll but rather a very broad brush look at immediate public reactions to the tape. The upshot is that while GOP elites may finally be done with Trump they appear not to speak, even remotely, for base Republican voters. According to the Politico/MC poll, only 12% of Republicans want Trump to drop out of the race. And 74% say party leaders should continue to stand behind him.
There are various permutations of these numbers in the poll – how negatively people felt watching the video, how they feel about Trump personally, etc. But they all echo the point from those first two numbers. Republican voters aren’t done with Trump, not remotely. And they overwhelmingly want party leaders to stand behind him.
The political drama of the last two days reminds me of those days in the Spring when #NeverTrump Republicans were spinning out theories about how they were going to use this or that trick to deny Trump the nomination. All great plans except for the fact that they hadn’t taken into account that the people who they count on for votes did want Trump. In the end none of it came to anything after Republican elites (and I use the term here in the purely descriptive sense of the word) made contact with their voters.
Yesterday evening, after I watched more of the heckling and saw Trump fixing on the same as a show of support for him, it occurred to me that the presidential race’s impact on Congress could be dramatically greater than we’ve imagined. This isn’t a matter of people being so deeply outraged about the tape. It’s more structural than that. The party leadership, at least as of last night, is in the midst of abandoning Trump. They’re not quite there yet. But they’re close. They probably saw overnight polls crating on Friday. I’ve seen various reports of private campaign polls registering this as a first response to the tape. It’s worth remembering that even 10% of Republicans moving away from Trump would show up in a big way on those reports. But seeing those polls, retreating to their own instinctive suspicion and in many cases hostility toward Trump, they didn’t give a lot of immediate thought to where the bulk of their voters stand. This poll makes pretty clear – as the booing and heckling did anecdotally – that they’re with Trump.
Some problems have no real solutions. The GOP’s relatively strong performance over recent months has been rooted in their ability to keep Trump and Anti-Trump or at least Non-Trump factions living under one roof – not happily or comfortably, but still united behind one candidate and one list of congressional candidates. Given all that has happened that’s actually quite a feat.
That no longer seems possible now after the release of the tape. Key embattled senate candidates have already rejected Trump. For them there’s no going back. If Ryan and Co continue on their current path of cutting ties, that seems likely to spur an open and massive conflict within the party on the eve of the election.
Trump’s tweets from this morning suggest he welcomes that war with guns blazing.
So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers – and elections – go down!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2016
For anyone in a competitive seat, that’s going to create an impossible task. If the party is split down the middle over Trump, how does a congressional candidate avoid sizable drop offs of support from one side or another in that conflict? I don’t see how they do.
This probably won’t affect candidates in truly safe seats. And with so little time to go I figure many House backbenchers can simply keep their heads down and avoid or largely avoid the controversy. But I don’t see how Senate candidates can do that. As I said, I don’t see how you run a congressional campaign in a party in the thick of a civil war. That’s the most over-used phrase in all discussions of intra-party politics. But here for once it may really apply.