Blinded by hate: Republicans too busy to notice plummeting poll numbers for Trump and GOP

Voters hate Trump, hate GOP abortion politics, hate the racism, but Republicans keep doubling down

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 12, 2023 5:49AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Perhaps it's a sign that they're still traumatized by the 2016 election. Or, more likely, it's just that elite members of the pundit class have subconscious anxieties when they see rich people actually held to account for their crimes. But far too much media chatter after Donald Trump finally faced indictments got caught up in a hand-wringing contest over who was most fearful this would somehow help him electorally. Well, score one for common sense over the received wisdom of the punditocracy: A new ABC News/Ipsos poll shows Trump's already low favorability ratings have plummeted even further, to 25%. 

For context, that's 14 points lower than when Trump called the white nationalists who threw a 2017 race riot "very fine people." It's 9 points lower than when he incited an insurrection on January 6, 2021.

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Despite the relentless whining about "witch hunts" from Trump, the polling also shows most Americans are well aware he's a criminal, with 53% saying Trump "intentionally" did something wrong. And let's face it, most of the 20% saying he's innocent probably don't believe that, so much as they're just loyal Republicans. But despite the fact that Trump is shaping up to be the loser that a small but outspoken faction of anti-Trump Republicans say he is, so far, it still seems he's got a lock on the Republican presidential nomination during next spring's primary. Indeed, he seems to be growing in popularity with the GOP base, even as his already low approval numbers with the general public plummet further. 

The more the public sees Republicans for who they really are, the less the public likes them.

For many GOP voters, it really is that they would rather lose the 2024 presidential race than admit liberals were right about Trump. But, I suspect, for many others, it's just that they are in deep denial. Trump and his right-wing media acolytes keep claiming indictments will only make Trump stronger. That is classic wishful thinking, and unsurprising coming from Trump, a man who has coasted his whole life by pretending to be everything he is not, such as a smart businessman or savvy power player. But it's wishful thinking that's infecting the MAGA base. After all, many of them live in a bubble where they don't consume non-MAGA media or interact with normal non-MAGA Americans much, if at all. So it can be easy to convince themselves that the orange-hued fascist is as popular nationwide as he is in their Facebook mentions. 

This level of delusion about their own popularity is not just Trump-centric. There are many signs that Republicans have become an ostrich party: The more the public sees Republicans for who they really are, the less the public likes them. But Trump's narcissism is spreading throughout the party, causing people who really should know better to believe that they have a wellspring of support that simply doesn't exist. 

The evidence has become overwhelming at this point: The anti-abortion views of Republicans are wildly unpopular. Before the Dobbs decision last year, in which the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it was plausible enough that the public was "divided" on abortion. Turns out, however, that was mostly because people didn't actually think they were going to lose access. Now that most Americans see this as a live political issue, instead of a settled right, the backlash has been dramatic. Republicans are losing race after race that they would have otherwise won, but for abortion. Yet, Republicans seem unwilling to admit that abortion is a political loser for them. 

The recent Wisconsin state supreme court race is a good example. It's not especially mysterious what happened: Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz beat election denier Dan Kelly by campaigning on the dual promises that she would protect abortion rights and work to restore democracy to the state. Her victory over Kelly would be properly described as an ass-whupping. Not only did she beat him by 11 points at the polls, but voter turnout was unbelievably high for an off-year election for a seat many people probably didn't even previously know was an elected one. In particular, young voters turned out in what looks to be record numbers.

But rather than admit that abortion is a losing issue, many Republicans think the problem is they aren't anti-choice enough.

Dominic Pino of the National Review lamented that Kelly hadn't run enough ads highlighting his anti-abortion views, writing, "Conservatives who run away from the abortion issue are destined to lose on it." His attitude is clearly shared by the majority of Republicans in state legislatures, who keep drafting ever more draconian abortion bans. "Keep banning abortion until morale improves" appears to be the guiding philosophy here. 

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The situation in Tennessee last week is starting to look like another example of Republican delusion. Perhaps it's because Trump didn't seem to lose any intra-party support after he had dinner with a couple of Hitler sympathizers late last year. But Tennessee Republicans seemed to have no idea that it was a bad look to expel two Black members of the state legislature simply for speaking out about gun violence in the wake of a mass shooting. The story rocketed to the top of headlines, drawing national attention. Indeed, as Sam Brodey of the Daily Beast explained, videos of the expelled members "racked up millions of views on social media," and a huge amount of money started to pour in. The whole thing helped accelerate "a sea change within the Democratic Party," of "national energy, outrage, and dollars flowing to fierce battles unfolding in the state capitals they once neglected." 

For many GOP voters, it really is that they would rather lose the 2024 presidential race than admit liberals were right about Trump.

In retrospect, Republicans really should have seen the virality of this story coming. After all, it confirmed the public's worst suspicions about Republicans: They are hella racist, hate democracy, and don't care how many people die by gun violence, so long as they keep getting their NRA funding. All the accusations against Republicans that often get dismissed as liberal hyperbole were right there on display in people's faces. It was especially hard for Republicans to run away from the fact that, out of the three representatives whose expulsion came up for a vote, only the white person was spared. 

There's no need to be concerned, however, that Republicans have learned a lesson from any of this. On the contrary, Tennessee Republicans are threatening even more retaliation against voters, if those voters continue to insist that they have a right to elect their own leaders. The GOP leadership is reportedly threatening to withdraw education funding from schools in Nashville and Memphis if those cities return the two expelled members to the state legislature. If there are any lingering doubts Republicans hate democracy, punishing voters for daring to vote should remove it. 

Of course, that hatred of democracy is why Republicans are less worried than they should be about their ballooning unpopularity. Republicans are already dependent on gerrymandering and voter suppression to give them power way beyond what they actually earn at the ballot box. They clearly expect, or hope anyway, that they can corrupt the system even further, so that voters never have a real say in who their leaders are again. But if this progressive backlash keeps growing, voters may actually have a chance to throw Republicans out before the GOP fires the kill shot on American democracy. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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