It has become clear that Republicans increasingly want Donald Trump in 2024. And a new poll includes extensive and eyebrow-raising detail as to why.
While Republicans flirted with turning the page after a tough 2022 election for Trump allies, the party’s voters have reverted to the mean. They now favor Trump for president over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) by upward of 30 points in some polls.
One of those surveys is the new CBS News/YouGov poll, and it provides the best look to date at the GOP’s priorities in 2024.
There are remarkable findings contained within. Let’s run through them.
Election deniers cost the GOP dearly in the 2022 election; the evidence for that is unmistakable. Yet this poll reinforces not just that a large majority of Republican-leaning voters continue to believe the election was stolen, but also that they want candidates who say that.
It shows 69 percent of Republican-leaners don’t believe President Biden is a legitimate president; 75 percent say the idea that Trump actually won in 2020 is a reason to vote for him; and 61 percent want a candidate who says Trump won the 2020 election.
That last one is particularly startling. It’s one thing to falsely believe the election was stolen, as most Republicans do; it’s another to want someone who continues to re-litigate that. (Indeed, there are other issues Republicans are less interested in re-litigating, which we’ll get to.)
Candidates who keyed on that stolen-election message fared extremely poorly in swing areas in 2022, winning just 10 of 47 competitive races and being nearly swept in competitive races for Senate, governor and secretary of state. It’s a big reason some in the party have gently tried to usher Trump away from this message.
But this poll also shows how this message could favor Trump. DeSantis hasn’t called the election stolen, and neither really have any of the other big-name hopefuls (credit for clearing a low bar, sure). It’s really just Trump dominating this ridiculous but effective lane.
Rather than call the election stolen, DeSantis tried to use the fact of Trump’s loss against him — in the service of an electability argument. DeSantis has even gestured at the idea that Trump’s voter-fraud claims are bogus and that he’s dishonest.
The poll reinforces that this electability argument isn’t as effective as DeSantis might hope, though it does point to some potential.
Not only do 75 percent of Republican-leaners say Trump’s supposed victory in 2020 is a reason to vote for him again, 84 percent say that “He would beat Joe Biden” is a reason to vote for him. By contrast, just 38 percent say “He could lose to Joe Biden” is a reason to vote against him.
By the same token, it’s significant that 4 in 10 suggest that this is on their minds. What’s more, 41 percent say Trump’s ongoing legal problems are a reason to vote against him, and 54 percent say the idea that he is “too controversial” is another reason.
All of which suggests that while most Republicans haven’t learned the lessons of three straight bad elections under Trump, a fair number of them are at least conscious of the problems Trump could pose at the top of the ticket.
Unless those numbers rise further, though, it’s difficult to see electability being a major hurdle for Trump on his way to becoming the Republican nominee.
Trump has made more than a few Republicans queasy with his growing embrace of the cause and support of those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. We’ve known for a while that the GOP base’s views of that day have evolved significantly in favor of the stormers.
But this poll drives that home in a particularly striking way. People were asked what Jan. 6 message they would prefer from a 2024 candidate. While 60 percent said they would prefer a candidate to not comment on Jan. 6, among the remainder, more actually prefer a candidate who supports those who entered the Capitol (24 percent) than one who criticizes them (15 percent).
Republicans on the whole clearly believe that what happened that day was overblown, with some helpful, counterfactual nudging by the likes of Tucker Carlson. But the fact that just 15 percent of 2024 GOP voters want a Jan. 6 critic speaks volumes about where the party has arrived on the issue.
At the very least, Trump’s feeding people nonsense about voter fraud, which they then seized upon as justification to storm the Capitol, doesn’t appear to be anything amounting to a liability for him.
Another Trump message that has worried some in his party is his focus on retribution against his enemies, whether real or conjured. While this poll suggests that the GOP as a whole isn’t clamoring for that, a substantial segment of it is.
The poll gave Republican-leaners a choice between a candidate Trump who would a) talk about working with Democrats, and b) “investigate and punish them.” While 40 percent chose “a,” 32 percent chose “b.” That’s about one-third of the GOP that wants this campaign to be about the retribution message Trump has featured, even apparently at the expense of getting things done.
And it’s undoubtedly from the noisiest segment of the party.
Some big-name Trump allies-turned-critics are still considering their 2024 plans. And for many of the above reasons, the verdict on them appears to be a decisive “no thank you.”
The poll asked whether Republicans would consider voting for certain 2024 hopefuls, and nobody fared worse on that than the three Republicans who have perhaps most run afoul of Trump.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R) and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson (R) are the strongest Trump critics in the bunch; for both, 7 in 10 poll respondents said they wouldn’t even consider voting for them in the primaries.
As for former vice president Mike Pence, who refused to help Trump overturn the 2020 election and has paid the price for that apostasy, 57 percent of Republican-leaning voters say they wouldn’t vote for him.
Oh, and just 7 percent of Republican-leaners want a candidate who criticizes Trump. That includes just 1 percent of self-described conservatives.
Christie has said he won’t run only to go after Trump and that he needs to see a path to victory.
This would seem to erase any illusions about the existence of such a path.