President Trump's decision to back Democrats' plans for raising the debt ceiling and permanently removing Congress's debt ceiling requirement is frustrating Republicans, and especially conservatives. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
President Trump's ability to fracture and even destroy the Republican Party has been chewed over plenty in recent days, as he — for the moment, at least — flirts with working with Democrats. The New York Times's Peter Baker wrote that Trump is, “in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency” since the Civil War. I've looked at what might happen if Trump actually ditched the GOP.
Whether that comes to pass or you agree with Baker's characterization, though, there are now some early signals that Trump is diminishing the GOP brand.
The Pew Research Center released a poll Wednesday showing a sharp drop in Republican-leaning independents who say the GOP label describes them well. While 49 percent said it described them at least “fairly well” back in 2016, just 33 percent say that today. About two-thirds of these nominal Republican voters now say the term describes them “not too well” or “not well at all.”
Among Democratic-leaning voters who subscribe to the “Democrat” label, it has remained basically steady at 42 percent.
We're also seeing this bit in Quinnipiac University's regular polling on the GOP brand. Three Q polls this month have shown between 22 and 25 percent of Americans rate the brand favorably — all three ranking lowest in more than four years of polling.
A big reason for the decline: Republican respondents. Earlier this month, the percentage of Republicans with a positive view of their party dipped to a new low in Quinnipiac's polling: 58 percent. It has since rebounded to 64 percent.
These numbers, it bears noting, are not terribly worse than they have traditionally been in Quinnipiac's polling. Back in early 2013, 63 percent of Republicans had a favorable image — pretty close to where it is today. The GOP brand hasn't been great in years and is usually worse than the Democratic brand.
But according to Pollster, the 22 percent, 23 percent and 25 percent GOP favorable ratings measured by Quinnipiac this month are all lower than any high-quality poll that asks a binary favorable-unfavorable question since 2012. (The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has measured it lower, but that poll offers a “neutral” option, which many people opt for.)
And the damage among independents was always going to be a little tougher to measure. Pew pegs GOP-leaning independents at 17 percent of the electorate, so even a sharp decline in the GOP label among this group would only register a few percentage points overall. That doesn't mean damage isn't being done, though, and this is the first group in which it would register.
It could very well be a blip on the screen, as could Trump's flirtation with going the independent route with his presidency. But for a Republican Party that has long worried about Trump's impact on it, these polls — along with polls showing GOP voters turning on their leaders — suggest there is some restlessness with the party that nominated him and that the GOP is ripe for Trump slamming a wedge right through the middle of it.