Published June 9, 2021
Common wisdom holds that former president Donald Trump remains the dominant force within the Republican Party. The truth is that his personal influence and standing are not as powerful as many imagine, and his power is as likely to decline as it is to increase.
There’s no denying that many Republicans still revere Trump. He remains highly popular with GOP voters, and candidates for office still vie for his endorsement. Two recent Politico/Morning Consult polls show how strong he remains. A mid-May poll found that half of Republicans surveyed would vote for Trump in a hypothetical 2024 presidential primary matchup, and another poll released this week shows that 59 percent want Trump to play a major role in the party going forward. Trump is clearly the single most influential figure in the party today.
But this masks how much his power has declined from its peak. Polls conducted before Election Day in 2020 regularly showed that more Republicans said they were supporters of Trump than they were of the GOP. Echelon Insights, a GOP polling firm, found in October that 59 percent of Republicans said they were Trump acolytes first, compared with only 30 percent who favored the party first. The firm’s May poll, however, found that Republicans were equally split between backing the former president and the party. A NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows the same trend. The same poll in September found 53 percent of Republicans saying they were Trump backers first compared with 37 percent who were primarily party backers. By April 2021, party backers led Trump supporters among Republicans by a 50-to-44 margin. Trump is still strong, but his standing is falling, not rising.
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Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.