If you watch too much CNN (something I’m guilty of) or MSNBC, you’ve probably heard all of the narratives going around, particularly since the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill. The Republican Party is in disarray! The party is split between those faithful to Trump and those who want to “move on!” Or just, “Republicans are crazy.” These discussions make liberals feel better about themselves, I’m sure, and it’s probably good for their ratings, not that you could tell from their viewership in most cases. But just how “divided” is the GOP today and what are rank and file Republicans looking for as they seek to come back from the wilderness of losing control of all three prizes in the federal government?
Scott Rasmussen has finished a new survey that touches on this question from a less “hair on fire” angle. In his latest column at Deseret, Scott examines a recent liberal op-ed that seeks to describe the GOP as a party that’s been completely fractured by Trump and is so “fact-free” that their voters would choose a fighting attitude over substantive policy discussions. But the results of his survey definitely tell a different story.
Since last fall, I’ve regularly asked a question about issue preferences: “Suppose you had a choice between four presidential candidates. All four had equal skills and temperament. Would you prefer a Republican who supported policies like President Trump, a more traditional Republican, a Democrat who supported policies similar to Sen. Bernie Sanders, or a more traditional Democrat?”
The results show that when you take skills and temperament out of the equation, Trump-like policies are more popular than any other category. In last weekend’s survey, 31% of voters preferred a candidate promoting Trump-like policies; 21% wanted a Sanders-like policy approach; 21% would like to see traditional Democratic policies, and 17% were in the traditional Republican camp.
If you take Donald Trump out of the equation, the largest segment of voters supports the policies that he promoted. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that a serious majority of the self-described Never Trumpers would respond in the same fashion if you had someone like Nikki Haley or Ted Cruz advocating for those policies. It’s only when the Bad Orange Man is talking about them that some people take issue.
But the only point from Rasmussen’s survey that still leaves me a bit confused is the seeming declaration that Trump’s policies while in office were really all that different from what are being described as “traditional Republican” policies. Yes, Donald Trump used to be a Democrat and ran in circles of friends who frequently were quite liberal. But what he did in office was far different.
We can run down that traditional list and assign grades to Trump if you wish. Pro-life? Trump opposed abortion every day of his term. Strong immigration enforcement and border security? Ask the hundreds of thousands of people who attended his rallies chanting “Build That Wall!” Right-to-work and fighting the unions? The unions hated Trump with a white-hot fury. Judicial appointments? He kept a list in his pocket that was developed by one of the more conservative think tanks around and he stuck to it. It’s probably one of the areas where conservatives cheered for him the most.
I’ll certainly grant that Donald Trump didn’t govern like a fiscal conservative. He spent money as fast as any Democrat, if not faster, and ran up the debt horribly. But if we’re being honest, he is hardly the first Republican to do that in the modern era. The ship for people who want to reduce the debt and rein in spending had already sailed. And his doting love for the ethanol industry wasn’t typical of previous conservative tenets. Some of his foreign policy positions probably left some conservatives scratching their heads. But aside from that, was Trump really a “new kind of Republican” and did he transform his followers in some fashion so we now have two smaller tents instead of one large one?
Honestly, I’m not really seeing. The conclusion that Scott Rasmussen reaches by the end of his column is probably the correct one, even if we arrived there from different paths. Is there anything that can unite the Republican Party in 2022 and 2024? Yes. And it will probably be the Democrats.