The Corner

Politics & Policy

Is Donald Trump Shrinking the GOP?

Over at the New York Times, Dartmouth’s Brendan Nyhan highlights interesting research indicating that Republican loyalty to Trump may be overstated. Yes, overwhelming percentages of self-identified Republicans still approve of his performance, but that’s because dissenters are leaving the party.  In other words, he’s holding on to a high percentage of a shrinking voter pool. Here’s Nyhan:

A new working paper by the Emory University political scientists B. Pablo Montagnes, Zachary Peskowitz and Joshua McCrain argues that people who identify as Republican may stop doing so if they disapprove of Trump, creating a false stability in his partisan approval numbers even as the absolute number of people approving him shrinks. Gallup data supports this idea, showing a four-percentage-point decline in G.O.P. identification since the 2016 election that is mirrored in other polling, though to a lesser extent.

Obviously it’s too early to know whether the trend is real or meaningful, and Nyhan makes no sweeping claims, but the argument resonates with my experience. Those who most dislike Trump are more likely to dislike the party that embraced him. Some will stay and fight to reclaim the party from Trumpism. Others, perhaps the more casual members, will distance themselves from the party entirely. In the last six months, I’ve spoken to any number of longtime Republicans who not only ask, “What is the GOP?” they’re also asking, “What is the conservative movement?” I’d also note that the ferocity of the ongoing internal arguments makes it more likely that dissenters simply don’t feel like they belong. 

As with any disruptive political moment, some will be attracted by change, others repelled. Unquestionably, Trump brought new voters into the GOP fold. Over time, will they stay? Will the new voters be enough to replace those who leave? Time will tell, but Nyhan’s analysis raises an important point — solidarity among a remnant won’t necessarily save a party from the consequences of a shrinking base.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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