"Trump fatigue" is hype: The GOP is still firmly in Donald Trump's grip — and that may haunt them

Fractures in the GOP foundation are forming — but Trump remains

By Heather Digby Parton


Published February 14, 2022 10:03AM (EST)

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

It appears that the GOP establishment is pursuing one of its typically lame quixotic attempts to see if it might be possible to oust Donald Trump from the leadership of their party. Or, at least, they are working hard to persuade the mainstream media to tell all those suburban swing voters that they're trying.

We've seen multiple articles in recent days making the case that Trump is weakening and that GOP leadership is taking a strong hand to the party in advance of the 2022 election. Some ambitious politicians even took to the Sunday shows to proclaim their independence.

Did I mention they were lame?

Donald Trump may have "dropped" to 50% support from Republicans polled but that would still translate into a primary election landslide. (And I suspect that Larry Hogan is not a serious threat to Donald Trump in today's GOP in any case.) According to an NBC News poll, just before the 2020 election, 54% of Republicans said they were more a supporter of Donald Trump than the Republican Party and only 38% said they were supporters of the GOP. In January of this year, the numbers are almost reversed with 56% saying they are supporters of the Republican Party and 36% saying they identify as Trump supporters.

Again, the problem is that the third of the party who consider themselves Trump uber allies adds up to a lot of people — and they are the most active and energized. And a majority of Republicans still like Trump and will happily vote for him in a general election anyway. Nonetheless, there are some hairline cracks in the coalition.

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TIME magazine recently reported that one of the little fractures in the GOP foundation is around vaccines. Apparently, a lot of Trump's followers are truly offended that he promoted vaccines. They quote one supporter saying, "why lose half your base over a faulty vaccine actively being used to take away rights?" and another saying, "I love Trump but this shit is getting intolerable."

RELATED: Trump can't save vaccine-hesitant Republicans: Fox News has turned the GOP into a death cult

We know he wants desperately to be given credit for the vaccines and possibly be given the Nobel Prize or perhaps even granted sainthood for this great personal achievement. Some of his advisers believe it's a good issue for him going into 2024, as well. But his followers aren't having it and it appears he's backed off and has joined the right's febrile caterwauling about "mandates" to cover for it, prompting one of his supporters to say after one of his recent rallies, "not hearing President Trump pushing the 'vaccines' was my favorite part of last night's speech."

Perhaps more concerning to Trump, Republican polling firm Echelon Insights released a poll this month that showed Republicans would prefer Trump over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis by 57% to 32% — down from 62% to 22% in October. It's still a big lead, but it's not quite the juggernaut it was a year ago. Echelon's Kirsten Soltis Anderson told the New York Times that many of the people she polled showed "a shocking level of ambivalence" about voting again for Trump. She said they liked his policies (whatever they are) but are finally expressing a bit of what sounds to me like "Trump fatigue" after all this time.

These numbers are inspiring headlines like the Washington Post's on Sunday which said, "A weakened Trump? As some voters edge away, he battles parts of the Republican Party he once ran." Reporters Michael Shear and Josh Dawsey write:

The former president's power within the party and his continued focus on personal grievances is increasingly questioned behind closed doors at Republican gatherings, according to interviews with more than a dozen prominent Republicans in Washington and across the country, including some Trump advisers. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity because there remains significant fear of attracting Trump's public wrath.

I think we can see the problem with this entire thesis, right there, can't we? These people who are "questioning" Trump's power are still terrified of his wrath. It seems to me that's the very definition of power.

GOP pollster Frank Luntz explains further that the real problem lies with the defection of independents, telling the Post, "He is still God among Republicans, but independents don't want him to run again. They have had enough." That's a problem for Trump. No one of either party can win without independent votes.

The article contends that this is all a matter of diverging priorities: Trump wants to wreak revenge on Republicans he believes have crossed him and put in place sycophants and cronies while Republican leaders want to find "palatable candidates most able to win in November." I would suggest that those aren't just diverging priorities. They are completely at odds.

Certainly, Mitch McConnell seems to think so.

On Sunday, the New York Times' Jonathan Martin reported on the machinations behind the scenes to topple Trump from his perch atop the Republican Party once and for all and it's not going well. McConnell, the GOP's leader in the Senate, is having a terrible time recruiting good candidates for the midterm and Trump has been flexing his muscle in a number of Senate races, pushing "goofballs" as McConnell sees them. It's anyone's guess how many of those goofballs will succeed in their primaries and how well they will do in a general election.

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It's clear that Trump has lost some altitude over the past few months. It's understandable since he's no longer in the public eye every day and has lost his connection to his base through social media as well. The mainstream media outlets aren't covering his rallies live and he is irrelevant to the legislative sausage making that's consumed much of the political coverage of the past few months.

RELATED: Republicans in chaos: Conflict with Trump endangers GOP Senate prospects

However, this may end up being a silver lining for him if he can allow himself to tone down the obsessive stolen election mantra and concentrate on the "policies" his followers allegedly love so much: degrading their political enemies and demeaning immigrants and people of color.

Being out of the spotlight allows Trump to re-enter the scene and offer up something new for his followers, some fresh insults, some new lies. His tedious rambling about stolen ballots has its place among their list of grievances but they need some new red meat.

I don't know if he's capable of pulling himself out of his funk and doing what needs to be done. And frankly, I'm not sure it really matters all that much. For all of this whispering among the establishment good old boys and the faint murmurs among some Republicans and Independent voters, it's hard to see how he can lose if he decides to run even if half the Party just wishes he would go away, It's the other half, the half that can't get enough of him, that's driving the bus. And they will run right over anyone who stands between them and their Dear Leader. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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