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Trump will survive impeachment, again — then what?

Trump will survive impeachment, again — then what?
© Greg Nash

Recuperating in Florida and off Twitter (a relief to 62 percent of the country), Trump is avoiding the limelight until his impeachment trial ends. But he certainly will not quietly go away. Once he’s out of this latest jam, he will go right back to his old, bombastic, self-centered tricks.

But what does Trump’s political future really look like? Does he even have one?

In the past, the stench of losing ended presidential hopes. No incumbent president has maintained much political power after losing his bid for re-election. The last such successful comeback was Grover Cleveland. Even non-incumbents have a hard time staying relevant. Only Richard Nixon was able to win following his 1960 loss. No other general election loser since 1956 has been given a second chance (though Hubert Humphrey came close in 1972).

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Trump is a different animal entirely.

No other significant major party figure has combined personality cult, opportunity and complete narcissism as Trump has. He purposefully dominated his time in office such that no other Republican could get more than a whiff of publicity. That dynamic has left a significant vacuum outside of Trump himself.

But there are cracks in the Trump façade.

Trump has mostly maintained his strength within the GOP, but even there he has problems. His support among independents has fallen significantly — and to the point where he has little chance of winning if he tries to regain the presidency in 2024 (which he almost certainly will want to do).

For all the tempest over voter turnout, the real problem for Trump in 2020 was independent voters. Trump went from a 4-point margin of victory among independents in 2016 (46 percent to 42 percent) to a 13-point loss in 2020 (41 percent to 54 percent). Even if the 2020 exit polling underestimated Trump’s numbers (and they look to be about 3-4 points off), the swing away from Trump is unmistakable.

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Throughout 2020 Trump held his own with independent voters — running a bit behind, but not by an insurmountable degree. Since losing and the riots, his support has eroded much further. Morning Consult has independents at 60 percent unfavorable toward Trump. YouGov, which prior to the election had independents much more favorable to Trump than most polls, now shows him at 49 percent approval among independents.

Trump’s sour grapes and behavior surrounding the Capitol riots are viewed most unfavorably by independents. Independent voters think Biden legitimately won (59 percent, YouGov) and Trump should concede (69 percent). Barring Trump from running for office is more popular than not by 52 percent to 37 percent in Morning Consult and 48 percent to 44 percent in YouGov.

While Trump still has strong numbers with Republicans, that support is eroding. Through his first term, Trump enjoyed across-the-board support in the upper 80s to low 90s among Republicans — but that support has now frayed. In the Morning Consult poll 20 percent of Republicans support impeachment, 13 percent in the Monmouth poll (up 5 points from the first impeachment).

Echelon Insights, a firm with GOP roots, has much worse news for Trump. Their recent polling has 40 percent of Republicans preferring someone new to be the “leading voice” in the party, up from 26 percent in December. Barring Trump from running again has 30 percent support, and 37 percent do not want him to run again (up from 22 percent in December).

Given the visceral opposition Republican and Democratic voters have for their opposing candidates, it seems rather likely that a re-nominated Trump would be able to collect most GOP voters under his banner. But, for a candidate who lost even while getting 94 percent of Republicans to vote for him, losing just a few percent would be catastrophic.

With independents deserting him, there is simply no path for Trump to get back into the White House — except as a tourist.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D. is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Dr. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.