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Poll: Donald Trump Has Fundamentally Transformed Republican Party

The realignment of the Republican Party behind Trump represents a major shift in the party’s principles.

Over the past few years since Donald Trump burst onto the political scene as a Republican candidate, there have been predictions that he would destroy the Republican Party. While those predictions have not yet been borne out, a new poll shows that President Trump has fundamentally transformed the GOP.

The Harvard-Harris poll released last weekend was mostly noticed for its revelation that Joe Biden had increased his lead over rival Democrat Bernie Sanders, but the poll also contained an enlightening question for Republican voters. The survey asked self-identified Republicans, “Do you consider yourself to be more a supporter of Donald Trump or more of a supporter of the Republican Party?” The answer was that a plurality considered themselves Trumpists by almost a 20-point margin.

Forty-five percent of respondents said that they supported Donald Trump personally rather than the Republican Party while 27 percent supported the GOP, presumably referring to the party’s traditional, pre-Trump principles. Eighteen percent supported both equally and eight percent supported neither.

These results confirm previous polls that indicate that Republican voters have jettisoned traditional Republicanism for loyalty to Donald Trump. The polling also offers an explanation for why Republican politicians find it difficult to criticize the president and keep their promise to hold him accountable. While many Republicans have simply remained quiet about Trump’s excesses, others, such as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, have apparently read the writing on the wall and completed a full 180 to become stalwart Trump defenders.

When asked which selected terms they most identified with, the top answer was “conservative Republican,” but this answer was chosen by only 19 percent of respondents as their first of three choices. The phrase “Trump Republican” finished second with 18 percent, which represents a statistical tie. “Christian conservative” was third at 15 percent followed by “moderate Republican” at 12 percent. Eight percent declared themselves to be “Reagan Republicans. Tellingly in an administration that is running a trillion dollar deficit, only eight percent identified with the phrase “fiscal conservative.”

In total, “conservative Republican” was only chosen as one of three choices by 46 percent of Republican respondents. Overall, 40 percent identified as “Trump Republican.” Thirty-two percent liked the “Reagan Republican” label while 30 percent identified as “moderate Republican” and 27 percent selected “Christian conservative.” Only 26 percent of the total identified as “fiscal conservative” and 13 percent as “social conservative.”

The self-labeling indicates that Donald Trump has changed the perception of what “conservative” means. It is no longer synonymous with the word “Republican” and, to many, the phrase “Trump conservative” is an oxymoron.

While some may view the shift as one that is largely semantic, the realignment of the Republican Party behind Trump represents a major shift in the party’s principles. The party has become overtly anti-immigration and protectionist where in the past it supported legal immigration and free trade. Republicans have jettisoned fiscal conservatism for an exploding deficit and the principle of small government has given way to proposals for regulating social media, creating a national childcare entitlement, expanding policing of the border and the immigrant workforce, and intrusions onto which employees should be hired or fired by private companies. Where guns could formerly be pried from cold dead hands, Republicans now glance away as the Trump Administration requires gun owners to surrender bump stocks without compensation. While it still opposes increased income taxes, Republicans cheer on Trump’s massive taxes on international trade that take as much or more from American pockets as tax reform put in. The party now rejects the rule of law when it is inconsistent with President Trump’s wishes.

It is likely that the future of the Republican Party will not be determined in 2020 but in the post-Trump primaries. President Trump remains overwhelmingly popular among those who remain Republican and no high-profile candidate has emerged to challenge the incumbent president. It will only be after Trump leaves office and Republicans are given a clean slate that we can see whether Trump’s populist approach will take root or if the party will revert to its old conservative character. Given the depth of the party’s adulation of Donald Trump, I’m not optimistic for a return to small government conservatism.  

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