With the announcements by Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee that they will not seek reelection, there has been increasing talk about the apparent collapse of the Republican Party’s center, blamed upon failed leadership from the White House. But concerns about President Trump’s fitness to lead the country may not be the only thing that’s pushing the conservative senators out. Instead, what may be driving them away is the fickleness of their party’s rank and file, coupled with the party’s overall approval of the president.
A new poll by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland found that 7 in 10 Americans view the Trump administration as dysfunctional. But the same poll had 8 in 10 saying that Congress is dysfunctional, and 7 in 10 saying that political divisions are as deep now as any time since the Vietnam War. Those kind of results give an automatic advantage to an outsider running in a primary, whether more conservative or more liberal than the incumbent.
And even with all that criticism, there’s little sign that the Republican faithful are anxious to abandon the president. A Pew Research Center study released last week found substantial support for Trump across four Republican groups. “Core Conservatives” make up 31 percent of all Republican voters and constitute 46 percent of politically involved Republicans. An overwhelming 93 percent of these well-to-do, well-educated voters approve of Trump’s job performance; 90 percent view him favorably. Core Conservatives are joined by what’s thought of as Trump’s base, “Country Firsters,” just 15 percent of Republican voters but 84 percent of whom approve of Trump and give him a 93 percent personal favorable rating.
Two other groups, “Market Skeptic Republicans,” comprising 22 percent of GOP voters, and “New Era Enterprisers” (18 percent), also voiced support for Trump by more than 60 percent, even as they differ with Trump and congressional Republicans on immigration, the role of big business and social issues.
Throw into this mix the divisions in the Democratic Party between the “establishment wing” and the “Bernie Sanders wing,” as well as the weakness of congressional Democrats’ recent “A Better Deal” branding campaign, and the alternative to GOP leadership does not yet look strong enough to overwhelm Republicans in 2018 and 2020.
But that doesn’t end the matter. As the midterm elections approach, Republicans need to figure out a way to deliver results on their legislative agenda. We know what the president and his party don’t like, and we have a sense for what they are trying to get done. Between now and next November the challenge for the party of Lincoln should be to deliver the necessary votes on something more than a single Supreme Court nominee. They need to show that they can actually govern.