The Atlantic has an interesting piece up by Sarah Longwell, a Republican political strategist and publisher of the neoconservative news and opinion website The Bulwark. She is the founder of Republican Voters Against Trump (now the Republican Accountability Project), which spent millions of dollars to defeat President Trump in 2020.
I conducted dozens of focus groups of Trump 2020 voters in the 17 months between the storming of the Capitol on January 6 and when the hearings began in June. One measure was consistent: At least half of the respondents in each group wanted Trump to run again in 2024. The prevailing belief was that the 2020 election was stolen—or at least unfair in some way—and Trump should get another shot.
But since June, I’ve observed a shift. I’ve conducted nine focus groups during this period, and found that only 14 percent of Trump 2020 voters wanted him to run in 2024, with a few others on the fence. In four of the groups, zero people wanted Trump to run again. Their reasoning is clear: They’re now uncertain that Trump can win again.
“He’s just too divisive and controversial,” a participant in Washington State said about Trump. “There are good candidates out there waiting to shine.”
A participant in Wyoming said, “I feel like there’s too many people against him right now. He’s never gonna make it … So I feel like somebody else needs to step in that has similar views, but not as big of an ego—who people like, I guess.”
“At first I thought I would” want him to run again, an Arizona participant said. “I think it’s time to move on.”
In a focus group the very next day, a participant in Georgia said, “They keep talking about the results of the election. And I feel like even when he’s doing his road show, he keeps bringing that up … I just feel like we’ve moved past that.”
One of the reasons some Trump voters want to “move on” from Trump is that they find him—and the resulting chaotic media environment—exhausting. In a focus group with Ohio voters, one participant said, “I do not want four more years of ‘orange man bad’ and everybody screaming about every time he tweets—and believe me, he did some really bad tweets. I don’t want four more years of that.”
This comment prompted another participant to say, “After hearing what you said, it makes more sense to maybe not want Trump there for certain reasons. When you bring back all of that, it makes me think again.”
These voters have roughly the same attitude toward the January 6 hearings that they did to both impeachments (during which I also regularly conducted focus groups). They believe they’re a witch hunt and a “dog and pony show.” They believe they are designed to make Trump and Republicans look bad. Only a few had watched some of the hearings before turning them off in disgust.
But unlike the impeachment hearings, which in some ways made GOP voters more defensive of Trump, the accumulating drama of the January 6 hearings—which they can’t avoid in social-media feeds—seems to be facilitating not a wholesale collapse of support, but a soft permission to move on.
I have mixed feelings about all this.
On the one hand, having Trump on the 2024 ticket might be the best gift Democrats could hope for. If all of what Longwell writes is true, Trump would a definite liability.
On the other hand, everyone underestimated him prior to the 2020 election.