Donald Trump lost the 2020 U.S. presidential election. That is a fact. But it turns out acknowledging that fact might cost a Republican candidate a chance at getting elected. According to a CNN poll published this week, a majority of self-identified Republicans and right-leaning independents say that “believing that Donald Trump won the 2020 election” is an important part of what being Republican means to them.
Of the 1,050 participants in the poll, 59% of respondents indicated that believing the Big Lie should be a defining characteristic for Republicans, with more than 1 in 3 saying it is “very important.” Just over 3 in 5 Republicans — 61% — said that supporting Trump is also a defining trait of their party identification. It gets worse: Even more Republicans, 63%, said they believe that Trump should be the leader of their party.
If there’s good news to be found here, it’s that supporting Trump and getting duped by con artists and grifters about the 2020 election are among the topics with the most split among Republican voters. Two in five Republicans surveyed said that these topics don’t factor into their party affiliation. Trump has also lost a significant amount of believers within the party, particularly as it relates to his odds in 2024. Back in 2019, 78% of Republicans believed that Trump had better odds than anyone else to win the presidency. Now, just 51% of Republican voters view Trump as their best shot in 2024 — meaning almost half of the party now believes someone else should lead the ticket for the GOP.
The poll marks the first sign of a light at the end of the tunnel of Trumpism — though let’s not kid ourselves, it’s a long fucking tunnel.
First of all, Trump is almost certainly going to run again in 2024. He’ll absolutely play the “will he, won’t he” angle on whatever platform will have him. (His two most recent appearances included serving as keynote speaker at an event hosted by a Christian cult and as a guest commentator at a celebrity boxing match, so things are going great there.) Jim Jordan, an Ohio congressman and former college wrestling coach who allegedly helped to cover up the abuse of students, regularly orbits Planet Trump and got caught on undercover video saying he “knows” Trump will run again. So let’s just pencil in a 2024 Republican primary headlined by Trump.
Meanwhile, the folks the president is likely to run against still have Trumpism in their DNA. A recent Emerson College poll presented the following potential candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a suck-up who has done everything he can to make sure he doesn’t upset Trump; Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a man who continues to suck up to Trump despite Trump calling Cruz’s wife ugly and suggesting his father helped assassinate John F. Kennedy; and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served in the Trump administration and was hesitant to distance herself from him until it proved convenient to do so.
The CNN poll suggests that if any of these candidates have a chance in 2024, they’ll have to either defeat Trump head-to-head, kiss the ring, or accomplish the seemingly impossible task of doing both. It also shows just how dangerous it was for the Republican Party to go along with Trumpism in the first place. Now it’s a tentpole issue for a majority of the party’s voters, and rejecting it will likely mean losing elections.
Republicans like to hold up the Trump candidacy as the one that brought new voters out of the woodworks and expanded their base. But now those new voters are the base — and they aren’t there for conservatism, they are there for Trump. The party isn’t going to be able to get rid of that strain of Trump-y conservatism easily, which means we’ll all be stuck dealing with it until it is either expelled from the party, or takes it over entirely.