We’ve seen this movie before — Rumors of Trump’s political demise are greatly exaggerated
Apparently, President Donald Trump’s political future is over. Headlines blare his actions are “a Breaking Point for Many in the G.O.P.” They pronounce that “Donald Trump Vows Retaliation as Republicans Abandon Him.” They warn: “Conservative Newspapers Breaking Tradition to Abandon Trump.”
Except these headlines are from 2016, before 92 percent of Republicans helped catapult Trump to the presidency.
Last Wednesday’s assault on the U.S. Capitol deservedly has spurred many Republicans to condemn Trump, including presidentially ambitious allies like former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). Vice President Mike Pence is finished with the man he has served obediently and unwaveringly. Conservative columnists insist this is the last straw.
But is it? Haven’t we seen this play out before?
Certainly nothing compares with actively supporting an insurrection against our federal government. It is arguably the worst thing Trump has ever done. But some would argue he has done as much or more damage to our country in other ways, only to see his support somehow hold firm.
For example, this past September journalist Bob Woodward released taped interviews from early 2020 in which Trump acknowledged how frighteningly deadly COVID would be — while all year he lambasted others’ similar warnings as “fake news” while politicizing rising deaths by blaming Democrats. What were the costs of his betrayal? According to Gallup polling, in the immediate aftermath of Woodward’s bombshell, Trump’s support among Republicans increased from 92 percent to 94 percent.
A year earlier, a whistleblower broke the story that Trump had repeatedly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, in exchange for Ukrainian aid. Republican officials and conservative pundits invested years attacking those who believed (correctly, based on a GOP-led Senate report) the Russian government actively assisted the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. So, catching Trump trying to secure more foreign political assistance appeared to be a slam-dunk abuse of power.
Yet in the aftermath, Trump’s support among Republicans never wavered, as his Republican support never dipped below 87 percent. During his ensuing House impeachment and Senate acquittal, his GOP approval jumped into the mid-90s.
Outrage is a funny thing. We care deeply — until some of us don’t.
Our increasingly hardened political divide has been a boon for Trump. Many of his supporters love him because he hates the same people they hate: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Trump taps into the growing angst among a shrinking segment of our country, and by and large they have stood by him through every statement or action that surely would have doomed any other elected official.
In a few days, Gallup will release its final Trump presidential approval poll before #45 grudgingly steps aside. Pay attention to his Republican support, which (based on the most recent survey in December) stands at 87 percent. Then consider that Trump ran away with the 2016 GOP nomination despite never exceeding 50 percent in any of the first 25 state presidential primaries.
That’s why it’s premature to declare Trump’s political future over.
He doesn’t need Nikki Haley’s or Tom Cotton’s support. For now, he still incites fervor from within the Republican National Committee. He’s continued to raise huge sums of money. If he can keep at least one-third of Republicans in his corner these next two years, he’ll enter the 2024 Republican primaries as the frontrunner.
Gallup soon will offer clues on whether the Trump-supported insurrection at the U.S. Capitol will become — like every other seemingly damning action — yet another breaking point that somehow doesn’t break.
B.J. Rudell is a longtime political strategist, former associate director for Duke University’s Center for Politics, and recent North Carolina Democratic Party operative. In a career encompassing stints on Capitol Hill, on presidential campaigns, in a newsroom, in classrooms, and for a consulting firm, he has authored three books and has shared political insights across all media platforms, including for CNN and Fox News.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.