While Trump’s influence is still relevant and prominent, the speakership drama that unfolded last week simply would not have happened at a time when Trump’s power within the GOP was at its zenith.
Trump, who openly supported McCarthy for speaker, sat by as multiple representatives thwarted his wishes – thirteen times. In the zenith of Trump’s power, opposing Trump so openly and brashly would have been politically catastrophic for the opposer. Today, however, opposing Donald Trump doesn’t carry nearly the same degree of consequence.
Donald Trump Backed McCarthy from the Beginning
Trump endorsed McCarthy for the speakership way back in November. McCarthy, understandably, “trumpeted Trump’s endorsement.” Meanwhile, Trump did a proper job of advertising his preference that McCarthy should serve as speaker.
Yet despite Trump making his wishes known, the process to select a speaker lasted longer this time around than at any point in the last 150 years; it was the first time in one hundred years that more than one ballot was needed to select a speaker. Basically, the process was a mess for McCarthy, Trump, and the entire GOP.
The logjam resulted from the wishes of just a few holdout conservatives, members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, who interestingly enough, were all Donald Trump disciples. Regardless, the Freedom Caucus didn’t view McCarthy as conservative enough; the holdouts saw McCarthy as a non-ideological, mainstream, establishment figure who was more concerned with self-promotion than any sort of conservative agenda promotion – and the holdouts wanted someone else to serve as speaker. So, the Freedom Caucus holdouts stood up against the wishes of Trump – a gesture that until recently would have been inconceivable.
“Republicans, it seems, didn’t fear Trump like they once might have. And when you look at the polling, that lack of trepidation makes sense,” CNN reported.
Donald Trump is politically vulnerable
Trump’s political stature has been weakened; he no longer has a vice grip on the GOP. Several lawsuits, investigations, and scandals have gradually chipped away at the former president’s stature. Trump’s diminished stature also stems from repeated election defeats – starting of course with his 2020 defeat by Joe Biden.
Trump has been losing elections ever since 2020. Most recently, Donald Trump endorsees were trounced in battleground states during the 2022 midterms – even in states that Trump had previously won, suggesting that Trump’s appeal is waning.
The polls reflect a similar sentiment. A Fox News poll found that Trump’s strongly favorable rating last month was 43 percent. Now, 43 percent is respectable (Ron DeSantis earned 40 percent), but bear in mind that Trump earned a 68 percent favorability rating in October 2020, meaning he has dropped 25 points in two years.
Trump’s vulnerability invites challengers
Trump’s declining popularity will invite political challenges, i.e., the defiance of Trump’s McCarthy endorsement, and more significantly, primary challengers in the 2024 presidential election. Although Trump has won two straight GOP nominations for the presidential ticket, a third win is not guaranteed. Ron DeSantis is surging in the polls. Actually, a Monmouth University poll conducted in December found that conservative Republicans prefer DeSantis to Trump. Similarly, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll also found that Republicans prefer DeSantis to Trump.
Winning the 2024 GOP ticket won’t be simple and easy for Donald Trump, or anyone else.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken.