WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Public Religion Research Institute is out with its annual values poll. There are many fascinating nuggets, some of which we'll look at later. For now, however, let's focus on the composition of the GOP.
Among those who identify as Republican or lean Republican, the pollsters find:
- 18 percent are Never Trump, neither supporting him in the 2016 GOP primary nor for 2020;
- 23 percent are leaning away from Trump, having supported him in the 2016 GOP primary but not for 2020;
- 19 percent are leaning toward Trump, not having supported him in the 2016 GOP primary but now supporting him for 2020; and
- 40 percent are Always Trump, supporting him both in the 2016 GOP primary and for 2020.
So nearly 20 percent have checked out of the Trump GOP and 23 percent are leaning that way, for a total of 41 percent. This, of course, does not account for the loss of many voters who won't even identify as Republican because of the Trump phenomenon.
However, the truly committed Trump voters (Always Trump) are also the "most strongly committed to the Republican Party. A majority (55 percent) of those who are Always Trump identify as strong Republicans, compared to only 38 percent of those leaning toward Trump, 22 percent of those leaning away from Trump, and 22 percent of those in the Never Trump group."
The party regulars are all-in with him. ("Strong Republicans express greater satisfaction and excitement about Trump's presidency than other Republicans," the pollsters find. "More than eight in ten strong Republicans say they are satisfied (54 percent) or excited (30 percent). Far fewer weak Republicans report being satisfied (43 percent) or excited (14 percent) about the Trump presidency so far." The Trumpification of the GOP is rather complete.
Could the Always Trump or leaning toward Trump camps reverse course if, say, the special prosecutor concludes that the president obstructed justice or colluded with the Russians? I wouldn't hold out hope for the 40 percent of the Always Trump; they've learned to ignore or rationalize away all facts, so they seem to be there for the long haul. The 19 percent, however, might be susceptible to new evidence - or a better choice for 2020.
So does this suggest the Never Trump or leaning away from Trump groups will have to leave the party to the Always Trump contingent, or is it possible to put together a majority of the non-Kool Aid drinkers (60 percent are not Always Trump)?
That, if Trump is still around in 2020, will be the big question. On one hand, the possibility that every voter who isn't Always Trump could unify behind a single alternative is slight but not nonexistent. Moreover, those who oppose Trump might well drift off into the Democratic primary, depleting the reservoir of available primary voters for a challenger.
What if instead the 41 percent of Republicans who are leaning away from Trump or are Never Trump - plus even a few re-converted voters now leaning Trump - were to break off and stand behind an independent or third-party candidate?
If the Democrats went over the cliff with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., they might even lure some Democrats into their camp. It's not impossible to imagine that a break-off faction of Republicans behind a well-funded candidate with high name-I.D. could get into the top two finishers in the general election. (Then it would go to the House, which might be far more Democratic in composition than the current House.)
Well, we've got a long way to go, and the collapse of the Trump presidency, if it comes, might either shatter the party or help unify it around Vice President Mike Pence (although his proximity to Michael Flynn, Jared Kusher and, of course, Trump might be disqualifying for lots of voters).
In any case, Trump enablers may dominate the GOP, but the rest of the party may choose to cripple the Trump GOP by leaving for greener pastures. The more the GOP regulars and Trump sycophants rail against the Never Trump contingent, the more likely the latter is to leave. And if Democrats play their cards right, they might even win some of these voters over.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post.