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Feehery: Winning CPAC? Easy for Trump. Independents, not so much

Former President Trump
Greg Nash
Former President Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on Saturday, March 4, 2023.

Donald Trump is very popular among the types of voters who go to CPAC.  

At that event, Trump held forth with the kind of rhetoric that brings great joy to the typical MAGA supporter. “I am your retribution,” he declared to the crowd that former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) likened to an “angry mob.” 

But what about the rest of the country — the part that is not looking backward for retribution but forward for positive progress on the manifold problems that ail the country?  

More specifically, how does Trump play for the independent voters who usually decide elections in this country? 

Phil Snape, the co-founder of the social media monitoring firm Impact Social, has spent a lot of time analyzing the sentiments of the prototypical swing voter and said this about the former president in an interview: “The problem for Trump is that the majority of independent voters dislike him. The issue which ferments this feeling above all others is ‘democracy’ — Jan 6, ‘The Big Steal’ etc. If he is to have any hope of winning these people, he needs to get off this subject.” 

Impact Social has a pretty good track record of predicting what is going to happen before most political experts have a clue. Their analysts correctly predicted that British voters would vote for Brexit, that American voters would vote for Trump in 2016, and that independent voters would keep Democrats in control of the Senate in 2022.  

In the run-up of the last election, Impact Social found that while voters didn’t like Joe Biden, they really disliked Donald Trump. “The online conversation therefore suggests that the Democrats may be in for a tough time come November 8 if views about Joe Biden translate to the voting booth. And yet hope remains. Evidently, many swing voters loathe the ‘MAGA cult’ and Donald Trump with a passion — which is also backed up by Trump’s -38 net sentiment score over the same period. So not liking Biden does not necessarily equate to wanting a Trump-endorsed candidate representing their state or district. […] The White House will surely be disappointed that these positives are not being spoken about more widely by swing voters. And yet, the discussion shows they are not entirely lost or forgotten. Faced with a choice between a Trumpian or Democratic candidate, many swing voters will decide a vote left is better than a Trump right.” 

This analysis jibes with internal House Republican surveys that indicated that it was independent voters who kept the GOP from winning a landslide election in 2022. It wasn’t abortion politics that hurt the Republicans as much as it was swing voters’ concerns about threats to democracy.  

According to Snape, Trump’s best moment with independent voters came when the FBI and the Justice Department invaded Mar-a-Lago to search for classified documents in September of 2022. But whatever sympathy for Trump that was generated by that ridiculous raid had largely dissipated by November. In the run-up to the midterm elections, as Trump hinted broadly that he was going to run again for the White House, Biden warned darkly that America’s democracy was in peril.  

It turns out Biden’s team saw something in the polls about the anxiety that independent voters felt about former President Trump and the future of our republic, and they figured that by attacking Trump, they could swing independent voters their way in the election. And it worked to a certain extent, as they mitigated the expected huge losses in the House and kept the Senate.  

The first rule to get out of a hole is to stop digging. Unfortunately for the Republican Party, Mr. Trump refuses to stop digging the huge hole he has with independent voters. They won’t vote for Mr. Retribution. They want to vote to save democracy, and until Mr. Trump can prove that he is all for protecting our Constitution and our federal republic, he will be the one Republican candidate who, should he win the nomination, will keep the Democrats in charge of the White House in 2024. 

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).  

Tags CPAC Independents MAGA Republicans

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