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Trump and the GOP Prepare to Battle

October 26, 2021 – Insight

Former President Donald Trump is working feverishly to maintain his hold on the Republican Party.  Last week he warned that his supporters are likely to stay home in 2022 and 2024 if his 2020 election claims are not addressed to his satisfaction.  And Trump emerged last week at a Virginia “Take the Flag Back” rally, trying to position himself as either kingmaker in a Glenn Youngkin victory or to claim “I told you so” in the event of a loss.

Since January, Trump has unsuccessfully sought to reverse his loss and neutralize the political fallout, especially with independents, from the January 6 storming of the Capitol by pushing “stolen election” claims, as somehow justifiable with the political middle.  This comes as independent voters are tilting Republican because of their dissatisfaction with President Biden and his policies.  In fact, in Virginia, Youngkin is posting far greater gains with suburban independent voters than Trump ever did by focusing on policy. President Trump sees this and seeks to link his “stolen election” claims with anticipated midterm turnout, spooking GOP strategists still smarting from the two Georgia Senate losses this past January where this dynamic cost Republicans the U.S. Senate.

Democrats won the House of Representatives in 2018 by turning out a greater number of independents, particularly among suburban women.  These voters were motivated by their animus to Trump and House GOP attempts to repeal healthcare coverage for pre-existing conditions.  In the 2018 Senate races, Republicans were able to hold their then majority, buoyed by a pre-election Supreme Court fight across a favorable Red state map.

In 2020, President Biden won because of independents, including seniors who soured on President Trump’s handling of COVID-19 and suburban men/women, who tired of his Twitter taunts and personal attacks.  These independents produced a Democratic presidential victory despite historic Republican turnout.  National Republicans had long posited that the race would be determined by which side turned out more of their “base” and therefore independents were deemed a less relevant voting bloc.  That view turned out to be wrong.  Notably House Republicans posted greater than expected margins, outrunning Trump in many of their districts.

Today, House Republicans believe they will return to the majority, due to redistricting gains, Democratic retirements and historical first term midterm electoral trends.  President Biden’s precipitous approval rating drop (especially among independents and polling showing a disinterested Democratic electorate, particularly among the party’s lower propensity female voters) has made House Republicans downright giddy.  Whether the confluence of these factors will tip the Senate scales to Republicans is not yet clear.

So where does President Trump and his “stolen election” claims play into all of this in 2022? Nowhere.  The issue fails to resonate with the vast majority of voters beyond hardcore Trump supporters who do not vote in midterm elections.  They did not show up for the 2018 House elections.  In fact, during the last month of the 2018 election, President Trump did not campaign for House candidates and instead held rallies in relatively safer red state Senate races. These hardcore Trump voters are highly unlikely to participate in the 2022 midterm elections despite Trump’s prodding and are far less relevant to congressional Republican chances.

Polling among Republicans on Trump is somewhat mixed.  A recent Pew Research poll found that two-thirds of Republicans want President Trump to retain a “major role” in the party, but only 44 percent want him to run for president again.  A Quinnipiac poll released this week found that 78 percent of Republicans want Trump to run for president again. The poll did not test Trump against other Republicans in a possible primary where he has consistently dominated but been short of 50 percent.  Recall former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s astronomical poll numbers in 2007 against President Obama where she easily garnered over 60 percent in any head-to-head matchup.

Polling among independents who are key to presidential election success is not mixed.  Almost 60 percent of independents do not want him to run again.  These voters are abandoning President Biden because of policy concerns.  But they will not return to a Trump-led Republican Party in 2024, unable to divorce their personal distaste for President Trump with any policy differences they might have with Democrats.

So where does this leave the Republican Party and its former President?  Despite anticipated congressional gains in 2022 and even a Virginia victory in the next couple of weeks, real GOP turbulence lies ahead.   While today it might appear unclear, the betting here is Republicans will land their 2024 plane with a pilot attractive to general election independent voters focused on policy distinctions and not a personality-based candidate who appeals to a narrower plurality of primary voters.

David Tamasi is a leading Republican fundraiser having served on numerous presidential, congressional and gubernatorial national finance committees over the past two decades, including the last four presidential campaign cycles.

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