By Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images.
Last month, Republican strategists were quietly sweating the likelihood that the party would not only lose control of Congress in November, but that Donald Trump himself had sealed their fate by denying the probability of a Democratic blue wave. “The president’s tweeting ‘red wave,’ and they watch Fox News,” a top operative fretted to Axios at the time. “These [Trump voters] will say, ‘The same Fake News, Deep State people told me Hillary was going to win, and Hillary lost. We’ve won all these elections.’” Another strategist offered further evidence: “We’ve seen it in focus groups, with Republican base voters, where you’ll come up with a hypothetical that the Democrats win, and people are like, ‘That’s not going to happen. That’s stupid’ . . . I believe [that] is actually causing the Republicans problems.”
The reality is that no matter how many times Trump tweets “RED WAVE!”, Republicans are vacating 40 seats this cycle—almost double the 23 seats Democrats need to secure control of the House and initiate impeachment proceedings. But according to the results of an internal R.N.C. poll, obtained and described in detail by Bloomberg on Tuesday, this is a reality that most G.O.P. voters—and in particular, most Trump supporters—have failed to grasp. According to the poll, which was conducted on September 2, a full half of self-identified Republicans don’t believe Democrats will take back the House. Among those who describe themselves as strong supporters of the president, the proportion of doubters increases to 57 percent. To support their views, many cited their distrust in poll numbers published by the mainstream media, saying they’d been wrong before. As the survey’s authors put it, “Why should they believe the same prognosticators who told them that Hillary was going to be elected president?”
The rest of the poll offers a few bright spots, such as the fact that 56 percent of all voters (including 33 percent of all Democrats) would be “concerned” if Dems took control of the House, and that Trump’s efforts to cultivate extreme loyalty with his base are working—they are “genuinely passionate about voting in the election and are voting G.O.P. lock, stock, and barrel.” The problem, however, is that their numbers are “dwarfed by the 44 percent of voters who strongly disapprove of the president and are just as committed to Dem candidates and voting in November.”
Recent reports have indicated that this grim reality may finally be sinking in for the president, who has replaced his “red wave” tweets with dire warnings to his own voters: “We’ll worry about [impeachment] if it ever happens. But if it does happen, it’s your fault—because you didn’t go out to vote,” he recently warned a crowd of Republicans in Montana. Unfortunately for Trump, those voters inclined to save him from being impeached aren’t the ones who need convincing. Instead, according to the study, it’s “soft” Republican supporters who will be most crucial in November, or “Those voters who ‘somewhat approve’ of Trump, and those who support the president’s policies but not his leadership style.” Per Bloomberg:
Motivating these voters could be tricky. One hurdle is Trump’s chaotic style, which shows no sign of changing. Another is that the issues soft Republicans care about most are ones involving government spending and are typically associated with Democrats. The survey found that increasing funding for veterans’ mental-health services, strengthening and preserving Medicare and Social Security, and reforming the student loan system all scored higher than Trump’s favored subjects of tax cuts, border security, and preserving the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“Special attention should be paid to the messaging regarding Social Security and Medicare,” the study notes. “[T]he challenge for G.O.P. candidates is that most voters believe that the G.O.P. wants to cut back on these programs in order to provide tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.”
As it stands, there’s almost no chance that the Republican Party will be able to rein in its outspoken leader. And it may prove equally impossible to convince the electorate that Republicans’ long-standing goal of cutting government social programs, as G.O.P. power broker Grover Norquist once put it, “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub,” is in line with what “soft” voters can stomach. With reluctant Trump voters faltering, and hard-liners convinced that Democrats pose no threat, the G.O.P.’s worst fears may very well be realized come November.