Trump’s Falling Star

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Joe Biden’s approval ratings may have slipped, but that doesn’t mean voters are nostalgic for Donald Trump.

Written by Susan Milligan and published in U.S. News and World Report on 2/11/2022.

“No nostalgia for the Trump years is a good way of putting it,” says Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll. While some Democrats have been unhappy with President Joe Biden of late, “what those Democrats haven’t done is decided they voted for the wrong guy,” Franklin says.

A January Marquette poll, in fact, found that Biden would best Trump, 53% to 43%, in a hypothetical 2024 rematch,

And among Republicans who are not part of the hard-core Trump base, the former president is losing his sway, analysts say.

“He doesn’t get to speak ex cathedra anymore, where everyone just drops to their knees and believes in him,” says Mac Stipanovich, a veteran former GOP consultant who now considers himself an independent. “He gets booed by his audience. [Florida Republican Gov. Ron] DeSantis did everything but moon him, and he’s going to get away with it.”

In recent weeks, high-profile Republicans have taken on Trump, unusual behavior from party members who once feared the wrath of a Republican president who prized personal loyalty to him and punished those who didn’t provide it.

In the most startling example, Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, told a conservative group that “Trump is wrong” when he said Pence could overturn the results of the 2020 election by refusing to accept the states’ electoral slates. Former Trump ally Chris Christie – a potential 2024 presidential candidate – went further.

“Let’s face it. Let’s call it what it is. Jan. 6 was a riot that was incited by Donald Trump in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and the Congress into doing exactly what he said in his own words last week: Overturn the election,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.”

DeSantis has openly tangled with Trump, criticizing the former president’s handling of the pandemic after Trump called politicians like him “gutless” for refusing to say whether they’d had a vaccine booster shot. DeSantis, notably, has not pledged to stay out of the 2024 presidential race should Trump decide to run again.

“(Trump) doesn’t get to speak ex cathedra anymore, where everyone just drops to their knees and believes in him.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week slammed the RNC for censuring GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wisconsin and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. The Kentucky Republican called the Jan. 6 episode a “violent insurrection” meant to erase a “legitimately certified election” – language that Trump derides.

Reports on politicians’ popularity have focused on the dismal ratings for President Joe Biden, whose approval numbers are in the low 40s, worsening an already-challenging midterm election year for Democrats.

But Trump isn’t doing any better, surveys show. An Economist/YouGov poll released this week found that Trump had a favorable rating of 40% and an unfavorable rating of 55%. A large portion – 45% – described themselves as “very unfavorable” toward the former president.

That survey also showed marked slippage among groups Trump carried easily in 2020 and would need to shore up a run in 2024. Among voters 45-64 years old – a group exit polls show the former president won, 50% to 49% in 2020 – 57% see the president unfavorably, with 39% viewing him favorably. Among 65-plus voters – a group Trump won, 52% to Biden’s 47% in 2020 – more than half (54%) view Trump unfavorably, with 44% seeing the former president favorably. A Morning Consult poll this week found that 60% of voters 65 and older have an unfavorable view of Trump, with 40% having a favorable view.

White male voters without a college degree overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2020, with exit polls showing the Republicans taking that voter group by a 70% to 28% margin. But YouGov’s poll found that half of that group see Trump in a favorable light now, with 46% of them disapproving of Trump.

Further, rank-and-file Republicans are moving away from a more direct identification with Trump himself. An NBC poll found that 56% of GOPers describe themselves as supporters of the Republican Party, with 36% saying they are supporters of Trump. That’s a reversal from late 2020, when 54% described themselves as supporters of Trump and 38% supporters of the GOP.

That explains Trump’s loss of favorability among groups that once were intensely loyal to him, says Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.

White evangelicals, for example, weren’t wild about the thrice-divorced casino owner when he was first running in 2015, Jones said. But once Trump won the nomination, “They really decided to like him more. What changed was that his status in the party changed. They adjusted their opinion accordingly, (saying) he’s our guy.”

Biden, also struggling in public opinion polls, must help his party hang onto congressional seats this fall, when Democrats are widely expected to lose seats in the House – and quite possibly, their majority there – and face a tough task in keeping their slight advantage in the U.S. Senate.

Hosting an unpopular president is generally not considered a wise campaign strategy. But the NBC poll found that Trump’s backing is no more of an advantage – and may be less of one – than Biden’s.

That survey found that 18% of voters are more likely to back a Biden-endorsed candidate compared to 21% of voters who say they are more likely to cast a ballot for a Trump-endorsed contender. Meanwhile, 36% said they are less likely to back a Biden-endorsed candidate, and 42% of voters would reject a Trump-endorsed candidate. Forty-five percent said a Biden endorsement wouldn’t matter, and 36% said a Trump endorsement wouldn’t matter.

While Trump was credited – or blamed – for primary losses of GOP candidates who crossed him while he was president, early numbers indicate he might not be as impactful now. Trump has endorsed former Sen. David Perdue in the Georgia GOP gubernatorial primary, but incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp – who told state lawmakers they could not overturn the Peach State’s election, as Trump desired – leads Perdue, 43% to 36%, in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump, ended 2020 with more than six times the cash on hand as her Trump-endorsed rival, Kelly Tshibaka.

“I think Trump in some ways – he’s like the big, bad wolf. He huffs and he puffs and he never blows anybody’s house down, really,” former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, told CNN on Wednesday.

The final verdict for Trump is likely to come during this midterm election year, experts say.

“If his endorsed candidates just sweep, that strengthens his hand,” Stipanovich says. “If there’s a mixed result in the primaries between Trump-endorsed candidates and the eventual nominee, that will weaken his hand.”

Meanwhile, Trump must fend off the GOP hands slapping him down.