GOP elites want to turn away from Trump. Will the base allow them to do so?

Forget scathing editorials from conservative media blaming former President Trump for the mediocre GOP midterm. Never mind their disappointing reception to his presidential launch in 2024. Ignore major donors who spend this time.

Keith Korsgaden is strongly involved in Trump’s decision. He is absolutely sure that he is not alone.

“There are 74 million people who voted for Donald Trump in 2020, and 74 million of us still feel the same way — that he is one of us,” Korsgaden said. The owner of Visalia Restaurant has been a Trump supporter since that huge plunge down the stairs to Trump Tower in 2015.

It may not be the outright consensus that Korsgadine expected, but his loyalty underscores a stark truth: Republican power brokers may be ready to break with Trump, but a large segment of the Republican electorate? Not much.

As the 2022 midterm elections draw to a close, the beginning of the 2024 campaign feels anonymous and strangely familiar. Trump began his comeback bid – the first for a former president since Herbert Hoover – as the front-runner for the Republican nomination who nonetheless appears vulnerable to a serious challenge within the party.

The primary question facing the GOP during this long run-up to the next election is who is really in control: the elected officials and opinion leaders who have shaped their party’s agenda from the top, or the grassroots bloc of Trump followers who have governed. From the bottom. Their numbers may have diminished since the previous president left office, but they still wield significant sway in the GOP primaries — and there may be more than enough. who are they To push Trump forward in a crowded field of challengers.

Republicans face apocalyptic scenarios: an ugly primary fight that could exacerbate ideological tensions within the party, or an easy waltz to the nomination by a candidate under the cloud of multiple criminal investigations and proving unpopular with VIP voters like women and independents.

“I don’t think he’s completely GOP stubborn,” said Mike Madrid, an anti-Trump GOP adviser. “That’s what I believe – I think the Republicans have so swallowed the hook that when you rip it off, it will stir up all its guts and possibly kill it.”

Republican elites have been here before, publicly breaking with Trump after the predatory vulgarity of the leaked Access Hollywood tape, his equivocation in denouncing white supremacists in Charlottesville, and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol spurred on by his false claims of election fraud. But as long as Trump has been able to rally voters rarely in support of him or his candidates, his influence on the party has never been in question.

It might be different this time. In tones usually reserved for Trump, media personalities speak respectfully of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 19 points up for re-election. The party’s strong showing in Florida’s congressional races also cemented DeSantis’ reputation for carrying heavily polled candidates to victory. By contrast, prominent party figures have pointed out clearly that Republicans have struggled in three consecutive national elections since Trump won the White House in 2016.

“If a political party can’t stay committed to its central premise, which is to win elections, what’s the point of it?” said David Kochel, a veteran Republican strategist.

There is some evidence that the GOP is ready to move on. A recent NBC poll showed that 62% of Republicans said they consider themselves more supportive of the party than Trump, the highest number since the first question was polled in January 2019. The Club for Growth, a conservative group allied with Trump, has distributed polls showing DeSantis leading the former president well in Iowa and New Hampshire, the top two states on the path to the GOP nomination, as well as Florida and Georgia.

The feeling that primary voters are willing to look beyond Trump is “very real,” said Christine Matthews, a pollster with Republican clients, spurred by their belief that he is stymied by his adversarial relationship with the media.

They are able to justify turning away from him by saying, “The media won’t give him a fair chance.” They will always be against it. So even though we really like him and think his politics were great, it’s time for someone new,” Matthews said.

This week, former President Trump announced his third run for president at his home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.

(Andrew Harnick/The Associated Press)

So far, the consensus pick for this new guy is DeSantis, who brings the former president’s instinct to fight a culture war to a less chaotic show.

“DeSantis is the stock to buy, and Trump is the stock to sell in politics,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas Republican strategist.

Mackowiak said the most pressing challenge for DeSantis is how to deflect Trump’s attacks. The Florida governor has survived a lot of attacks by a lot of people, but Trump is different. He just. “

Trump also has one rallying cry that no other potential challenger can make — a claim of supposed legal persecution by the federal government. When the FBI searched his Florida estate this summer, GOP politicians and media personalities shouted in his defense. A decision is coming. Gen. Merrick Garland on Friday appointing a special counsel to oversee two Justice Department criminal investigations into Trump showed how this dynamic will continue well into the next presidential election cycle.

“Voters will instinctively want to defend him against what they see as a witch-hunt, an unfair pursuit of him,” said Cochell. But he noted, “They can also say, ‘We want to defend Trump from these accusations, but we also know he’s not the best thing for the party and for the upcoming campaign. ‘”

Announcing his bid before the Senate runoff race In Georgia next month, Trump risks further estrangement from his party if the Republicans end up losing this race.

Many GOP operatives are still savvy about the January 2021 Georgia Senate runoff, when Trump’s focus on his electoral loss dented turnout among his supporters and Democrats went on to win both races and seize control of the Senate.

One of those victors, Sen. Raphael Warnock, hopes Trump can have a similar effect on voters this time around. On Thursday, his campaign released an ad that is just footage of Trump’s 2024 ad, in which the former president endorses Warnock’s Republican rival, Herschel Walker. The ad ends with two signs: “Stop Donald Trump” and “Stop Herschel Walker”.

Some of Trump’s allies earlier in the conservative media were wilting in their criticism of him being dragged into the party after his favored candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives failed in last week’s elections. The New York Post was particularly ripped. The day after it was launched in 2024, “Florida Man Briefly Announces” was joked on the cover and the speech’s story was buried on page 26 with the headline, “I’ve Been There, Without It.”

Other media outlets greeted Trump’s candidacy with similarly unenthusiastic headlines. “Trump 3.0 is a changed man – now he’s a loser,” said the Washington Examiner. “Oh, Trump believes yesterday,” Karl Rove said in the Wall Street Journal. The national magazine headline was simply, “No.”

Way and strength [with which] Howard Poleskin, whose daily newsletter, TheRighting, spins headlines from the conservative media ecosystem, said, “They turned on him and spoiled my hair backwards.

But the history of the modern Republican Party is littered with cautionary tales about the challenges of reorienting the party, especially if the party’s most committed voters aren’t on board.

In 2012, after two consecutive presidential losses, the party’s supporters decided it was necessary to remake the image of the Republicans. Fox News’ Sean Hannity said he “evolved” in his thinking on immigration and endorsed it path to citizenship. The Republican National Committee commissioned what was widely called an autopsy, which stipulated softening positions on social issues and promoted immigration reform as a way to appeal to voters of color, youth, and women.

Republican grassroots felt differently. Shock conservative Jock Rush Limbaugh blasted the document. Four years later, the party has backed a candidate whose hard line on immigration can be summed up by “build the wall”.

“We would project what we thought would be best for the party onto the voters, instead of listening to what the voters wanted and trying to put together a party that appealed to them,” said Tim Miller, the former RNC official who worked on the report.

For years, party leaders have tried to point the Tories to more electable candidates, and they’ve been on the cutting edge John McCain and Mitt Romney to become Republican candidates. Both lost in the general election.

“Donald Trump broke the puzzle” of that strategy, Miller said, by being a candidate who gave the grassroots what it wanted and won the general election. Now “it’s hard to see them buying into the argument for the election again,” said Miller, who has been a fierce critic of Trump.

Despite countless commentators and editorials denouncing Trump as the cause of the GOP’s recent frustrations, some of the former president’s supporters have not been persuaded.

“Putting the blame on President Trump is preposterous,” said Celeste Gregg, a longtime GOP operative from Northridge. She said that the fault lies more in the weakness of the electoral campaign efforts by the local and state parties.

With her extensive network of conservative supporters, Gregg said, “I haven’t found any of my friends, or any of my acquaintances, who have said he shouldn’t run.”

For all of Trump’s high-profile outages, others were quick to show their support. And soon, popular favorites such as Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia endorsed Trump’s 2024 bid. Sen.-elect J.D. Vance of Ohio, who won the primary thanks to the former president’s support, wrote an op-ed titled “Don’t Blame Trump.” .

“What will be important to watch is the way Fox News treats it in prime time,” said Polskin, who tracks conservative media. “They are by far the biggest megaphone in the largest right-wing media universe.”

The crowded right-wing media ocean may also pressure some major outlets to return to the Trump camp. When Fox News conceded Biden won in 2020, Trump publicly attacked the channel, urging his supporters to move to smaller, more hard-line channels — OAN and Newsmax — and Fox’s ratings plummeted.

Even if this current hostile tone from major outlets continues, a wide range of podcasts, streaming shows, and conservative websites will continue to produce plenty of Trump-aligned content.

“We’re in a new media field,” said Heather Hendershot, a professor of film and media at MIT, who contrasted the interconnected audiences of the network age with today’s fractured media landscape. “You can’t go back to a moment as fractured as it is today.”

That’s why Korsgaden, a devoted fan of Trump, hasn’t caught on to the DeSantis fervor of mainstream conservative outlets. He’s not a fan of Trump’s swipes at the Florida governor, but he thinks DeSantis has plenty of time to bid for the White House in the future. And good luck to any media person or party leader who tries to convince him otherwise.

“I am very suspicious of teachers, doctors, and politicians… Do you know who I trust?” he asked. “Big mouth with orange hair.”

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