Trump’s endorsements will remain a force within the GOP, new study says

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport on Oct. 28, 2020, in Goodyear, Ariz. AP Photo by Evan Vucci

Donald Trump’s influence on the Republican Party likely will remain strong after his second impeachment acquittal, with 45 percent of Republican respondents saying they would support a candidate whom Trump endorsed, according to a new survey by researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers.

David Lazer, university distinguished professor of political science and computer and information sciences at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Only 11 percent of GOP supporters said that a Trump endorsement would make them less likely to vote for a candidate, while 44 percent said it would have no bearing on their choice. By contrast, a small percentage of Democrats and independents said they would be positively influenced by Trump.

Trump’s support of fellow Republicans may produce mixed results in upcoming elections, says David Lazer, university distinguished professor of political science and computer and information sciences at Northeastern, and one of the researchers who conducted the study.

“You would clearly want Trump’s recommendation if you’re a Republican running for office,” he says with a caveat. “It would help in the primaries, but hurt in a general election.”

Endorsements as a practical matter usually don’t carry a lot of weight, Lazer points out, but it is plausible that they would in Trump’s case.

The former president’s popularity among rank-and-file Republicans remains high, with some polls showing his approval ratings among Republicans stabilizing at around 80 percent after falling in the aftermath of the U.S. Capitol siege last month. The attack was the basis for an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives and last week’s trial in the Senate.

Seven Republican senators sided with 50 Democrats to find Trump guilty, but that was far short of the 67 votes needed to secure a conviction. The verdict allows him to run for the Oval Office down the road, and Trump hinted at his future plans in a tweet after the conclusion of Saturday’s trial.

“I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together,” he said.

Given Trump’s popularity in the party, some of the Senate Republicans and their GOP House colleagues who supported Trump’s second impeachment may face considerable risk in future campaigns, says Lazer.

Two Republican senators, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, aren’t running for re-election in 2022 and are likely done with politics, but they faced a backlash at home over their votes to convict. Only Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is up for re-election next year.

Some of the five other Republicans who sided against Trump come from states that he handily won in 2020, including Louisiana, Utah, and Nebraska, potentially making them vulnerable.

“It would be out of character if [Trump] didn’t try to punish them,” Lazer says.

A similar fate holds true for Republicans who didn’t support Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential campaign was fraudulent.

Brian Kemp, for example, rose to the governorship of Georgia largely on Trump’s backing, but later became the target of his ire when Kemp refused to overturn Joe Biden’s win, the first by a Democrat in nearly 30 years in Georgia.    

“I’m ashamed that I endorsed Kemp,” Trump later said.

Another Republican, U.S. Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, beat back an attempt by Trump’s Capitol Hill allies to oust her from a House leadership post after her impeachment vote. But she still faces at least one primary challenger who has vocally supported Trump should she decide to run for re-election next year.

The Wyoming Republican Party has already censured her and called for her to step down.

“She’s not out of the woods yet,” says Lazer. 

While 59 percent of poll respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” disagreed with the statement, “if votes were fairly counted, Donald Trump would have won the 2020 election,” this seeming consensus “obscures enormous partisan gaps,” according to the poll’s authors. They found that 96 percent of Democrats believe that the presidential campaign was conducted fairly, compared with only 30 percent of Republicans.

The national online poll of 2,000 U.S. citizens was conducted one week after the former president’s supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. The survey continued until Jan. 20, when Biden was sworn in.

In that span, researchers found strong majorities opposed the siege, although opposition was far from unanimous. While 86 percent of Democrats were in strong opposition to the incident, only 65 percent of Republicans were. 

The findings laid bare what researchers described as two competing political realities, with one side believing Biden rightly won the election and another claiming Trump did. The potential for more political violence can not be discounted, Lazer says.

“Will that happen for sure? Not at all,” he says. “But we are creating some fertile soil for that possibility to occur.”

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