Nov 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Republicans see signs of Trump support softening

Image of Donald Trump in profile

Former President Trump. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategu/AFP via Getty Images

For the first time since the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, there are signs former President Trump's core GOP support may be softening — among grassroots conservatives who stood with him through thick and thin.

Driving the news: The conservative Club for Growth, a one-time Trump ally, released polling Monday showing Trump trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by double-digits in four early primary states.

  • The polling, first reported by Politico, was seen as a preemptive shot at Trump's expected presidential announcement.
  • Several key Trump cheerleaders, from right-wing influencer Candace Owens to conservative Virginia lieutenant governor Winsome Sears, have broken with the president in recent days. The ripple of defections aren't coming from anti-Trumpers but those closer to the MAGA movement.
  • Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis, representing the Trumpiest state in the country, declined to endorse Trump's expected presidential campaign this week and said DeSantis was now the leader of the Republican Party.

Why it matters: Trump needs to be seen as a winner. It's why he spent so much energy denying the reality that he lost the 2020 election. But with so many of his candidates headed to defeat — and nearly all of them conceding their elections gracefully — it's getting harder for his supporters to avoid the obvious.

  • Since winning the presidency in 2016, Trump has been a drag on Republican Party fortunes for three straight elections.
  • Trump-endorsed candidates didn't win a single "toss-up" House race, and election deniers were swept in swing-state secretary of state races.

By the numbers: The Club for Growth polling, commissioned by a top Republican pollster, Chris Wilson, showed DeSantis in head-to-head matchups in commanding positions against Trump in the early primary/caucus states of Iowa (+11) and New Hampshire (+15).

  • It's not just polling from internal groups that shows Trump losing steam among onetime supporters. A YouGov poll, conducted right after the election, found DeSantis narrowly leading Trump 41%-39% in a head-to-head matchup.

Reality check: Even if DeSantis turns out to be a formidable foe against Trump, he's not going to be running against him in a one-on-one race.

  • Other Republicans, from former Vice President Mike Pence to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, could end up dividing the Trump-skeptical slice of the electorate — along the lines of what happened in 2016.

The bottom line: Even though Trump has appeared down and out before, polling suggests that this is his lowest standing with Republican voters since he first ran for president in 2016.

  • His Mar-a-Lago announcement begins the newest test for whether he can again turn his fortunes around.
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