For years, the GOP coalition was described as a three-legged stool consisting of religious conservatives, small government types and military hawks. The battle for the GOP presidential nomination would often come down to a battle between the leader of each one of these legs (or wings).
The Obama-era ushered in the fourth wing—a populist, nationalist Tea Party that has morphed into the Trump wing. But, the Trump coalition isn't equal in size to the other three; it has overshadowed them.
Since January of 2019, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has asked GOP voters if they identify more as a supporter of President Trump or as a supporter of the Republican Party. In almost every poll, more Republicans identified as supporters of Trump than of the Republican Party. In fact, in the final poll before the election (Oct 29-31, 2020), 54 percent of Republicans said they identified with Trump, while just 38 percent identified as a supporter of the GOP.
In Congress this week, GOP members had a similar choice in front of them. Would they align themselves with President Donald Trump's illegitimate election fraud claims and vote to overturn the Electoral College votes from states carried by Joe Biden? Or would they follow GOP leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell, who implored Republicans to forgo taking this "poisonous path?" In the end, of the 255 Republicans in the House and Senate who voted this week on President-elect Joe Biden's electoral college victory, 147 (57 percent) supported at least one objection to counting Biden's electoral votes. In contrast, 109 (42 percent), did not support any objection to Biden's win.
In other words, the breakdown in Congress looks almost identical to the breakdown among GOP voters; more than half of the Republicans in Congress were identifying themselves as Trump-first Republicans.
Not surprisingly, most of the GOP members of the House who voted to object to Biden's Arizona and/or Pennsylvania slate of electors sit in deep red districts where their biggest political threat will come from their right. Also foreseeable were the suburban, swing district Republicans — Reps. Don Bacon (suburban Omaha, NE), Peter Meijer (Grand Rapids, MI) and Ann Wagner (suburban St. Louis, MO) — who voted against these electoral college objections. Even so, many of the Republicans who won competitive districts in 2020 (Reps. Mike Garcia (CA-25), Steve Chabot (OH-01), and Beth Van Duyne (TX-24) ), objected to Biden's electoral college wins in Arizona and/or Pennsylvania.
In fact, in looking at the 40 most competitive districts won by Republicans in 2020 (districts carried by Biden and/or where the GOP candidate won with less than 10 percent of the vote) just over half of those GOP Reps. (21) voted to support Trump's discredited claims of election fraud.
Also notable was the fact that this vote split the GOP leadership in the House. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise supported Trump, while conference chair Liz Cheney vocally objected to these votes. This is especially relevant because it's McCarthy who will be charged with trying to win control of Congress in 2020. At this point, he seems to think that being on the wrong side of Trump is more politically dangerous to his members than being too closely tied to the president.
So, does this mean that Trump has a permanent hold on at least half of the GOP voting base and GOP members of Congress? According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal data, on average, 46.6 percent of Republicans are more a supporter of Trump than the party, while 40 percent pick party over Trump. This suggests that Trump's claim to 'ownership' of the GOP brand is malleable. Even so, it's clear that he leaves a very big shadow that will not fade overnight.
Image: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana