When Carter Wrenn says former President Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is slipping, I listen.
Carter and I have fought on different sides of North Carolina’s political wars for years, most notably the Jim Hunt-Jesse Helms Senate race in 1984. Despite that bitter campaign and our political differences, we’ve become friends.
Carter is smart, tough and experienced. Above all, he’s blunt and candid; he calls them like he sees them.
Now, Carter is challenging the conventional wisdom that the Republican Party is Trump’s party.
He recently did a national poll with John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. Carter wrote:
“When a candidate’s popularity begins to wane it’s seldom like a titanic crash; it’s more like watching a row of dominoes fall. People who once said ‘He’s great’ roll downhill saying ‘He’s OK;’ people who used to shrug ‘He’s OK’ roll downhill saying ‘I no longer like him.’ That’s what’s happening to Donald Trump.”
Here were Trump’s numbers among Republican voters last October in a New York Times/Siena College poll: very favorable, 77; somewhat favorable, 15; unfavorable, 6.
Here were Trump’s numbers this April in Carter’s poll: very favorable, 58; somewhat favorable, 27; unfavorable, 13.
Carter wrote, “Trump’s ‘base’ — very favorable Republicans who say ‘He’s great’ — dropped by 19 points, from 77% to 58% — a 25% drop.”
He added, “That erosion, which ties to disapproval of Trump’s personality, is significant.”
What happens if Trump runs for president in 2024? The poll found that “44% of the primary voters said they’d vote for Trump — but 56% didn’t. And that’s not set in stone. Trump may decline more. Or rebound.”
Further. the poll found: “Trump opposing a candidate in a Republican primary does not appear to matter a great deal to Republican primary voters. Fifty percent said Trump opposing a candidate makes no difference to them. Twenty-six percent said they would be more likely to vote against a candidate Trump opposes; 24% said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate Trump opposes — a margin of only 2 points.”
Trump would face even bigger problems in November 2024. Carter says, “Trump’s Republican ‘base’ is not large enough to elect him in 2024. To defeat Biden, Trump needs to win a majority of independents.”
But the poll found that 55% of independents are unfavorable to Trump; 44% are “very unfavorable” compared with only 37% who answered favorable.
That’s not just a challenge in November; 29% of Republican primary voters are independents.
The poll traced Trump’s negatives to his personality — “exaggerating, bragging, bullying, lying.” The big problem is the “big lie” — Trump’s claim he won the election but that it was stolen from him.
Carter’s poll asked if voters agree or disagree that “Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election.” Most Republicans, 64%, agreed. But 23% disagreed. Democrats disagreed by 93% to 6%. Most important, independents disagreed by 61% to 27%, more than 2-to-1.
This isn’t the only bad poll for Trump. The Washington Post reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee’s recent polling in core battleground districts found that “Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones. ... Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has stood up to Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, said the committee’s staffers left out that finding when they briefed a party retreat in April.
Republican leaders are in denial — about the election, the Jan. 6 riot and, now, Trump’s polls. If his poll numbers keep going down, will Republicans go down with him?
Gary Pearce was a newspaperman, political consultant and adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt. He blogs about politics and government at newdayfornc.com.