As revelations have emerged little by little from the congressional investigation into what happened on January 6 last year, more Republicans are beginning to ask themselves an uncomfortable question: is it time to dump Donald Trump?
“I believe it changes the calculation,” conservative commentator Scott Jennings, told CNN after the last Jan 6 panel hearing on Tuesday which revealed Trump’s desperate attempts to cling to power, including a profane shouting match in the White House about schemes to overthrow the election.
“I believe that you're already seeing evidence in some of the political polling, that he [Trump] is not as in a great shape as he used to be with Republicans,” said Jennings, pointing to recent polls showing Trump’s popular support slumping, though he retains a commanding hold over the party.
Others are saying it may be too late to back another candidate in 2024 if Trump decides to run. The Republican Party’s fate is now so enmeshed with the former president that it must live with the consequences of its love affair with Trumpism, said Democratic pollster, Fernand Amandi.
“If you look at the current state of play, Trump is still the undisputed leader of the Republican party. The Republican Party is Trumpism and Trumpism is the Republican Party, and I don’t believe they can be separated any more” he added.
Trump confirmed this week that he is considering launching a 2024 campaign as early as this month, in what some analysts see as a move designed to pre-empt any possible challenges from within the party.
In an interview with New York magazine, Trump said his only question was whether to announce before the mid-term elections in November, or not. "Do I go before or after? That will be my big decision,” he said.
New polling shows Trump losing electability
As Trump weighs up his options, a New York Times/Siena College poll shows he still holds a commanding lead in a hypothetical matchup against other leading potential candidates. The poll found that 49 percent of primary voters said they would support him in 2024, versus only 25% for his closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
But, the New York Times/Siena polls shows support for Trump has eroded significantly in recent months compared to the massive majority he held before. And, despite the political and economic problems facing President Joe Biden, the Times/Siena poll found that he was still more popular than Trump, 44 percent to 41 percent.
“People are looking for another alternative,” said Jennings, pointing to the fact that a majority of Republicans no longer favor Trump being a candidate again. “I see evidence that a lot more people in the party who voted for him twice, gave him money, [and] really supported him, are ready to do something different,” he added.
As it nears its conclusion, the House January 6 hearings have drawn a stark picture of the threat to democracy poised by Trump and his embrace of far-right extremist groups.
Danger of "civil war" if Trump returns
On Tuesday, the hearing traced Trump's links to the far right-wing groups that assaulted Capitol Hill, threatening to hang vice president Mike Pence if he accepted the certification of the election results that afternoon.
Jason Van Tatenhove, the spokesman for the former far right group, the Oath Keepers, warned in his testimony that Trump would "whip up a civil war among his followers, using lies and deceit" if he launches another campaign for the White House in 2024.
Some analysts warn that Trump has been written off before by Washington pundits who are not in touch with the political mood in rural states where Trump remains very strong. “There’s always been unease with Trump in political circles in Washington. But history shows the Republican base in the countryside is in the driving seat. The party’s base is still in lock-step with Trump,” said Matt Terrill, a former Republican party strategist now with consulting firm Firehouse Strategies.
There was a danger that Trump’s persona and standing is still so big in the party that he could potentially crowd out other candidates, Terrill conceded. “You need to have a lane to run in. Right now, (Trump) is taking up a lot of different lanes that minimizes the ability for any other candidate to find a lane to run in,” he added.
Jan. 6, 2021: "Enough is enough"
There was a moment hours after the protestors had been cleared from the floor of Congress on January 6, 2021 that Republicans looked like they might abandon Trump. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham even said, “Enough is enough,” before backtracking a few days later.
But a hasty impeachment effort failed and Republicans rallied around Trump once more. “They never created space between their brand and Trump’s brand. Of course, Republicans should run away from Trump, but they are incapable of it,” said Kristian Ramos, Hispanic media consultant with Autonomy Strategies.
DeSantis: the main threat to Trump
The problem for other potential Republican candidates is that if they dare to go after Trump they risk being turned into mincemeat by Trump’s over-sized ego and outlandish rhetoric, analysts warn. “If Trump runs against DeSantis he’ll do to him what he did to “Little Marco” Rubio, “Lying Ted” Cruz and “Low Energy” Jeb Bush,” said Amandi, recalling the belittling names Trump used for some of the other candidates he blew away in 2016. “He’ll turn DeSantis into a caricature of himself,” he added.
DeSantis is the clear main threat to Trump and polls show him leading the former president in Florida, where Trump has made his home. One survey this week, conducted by Blueprint Polling, found almost 51% of those asked prefer the Florida governor, with the former president trailing with just under 39%.
DeSantis has hinted that he won’t run if Trump decides to be a candidate. Only 43 years old and likely to be re-elected Florida Governor for another four years in November, he can afford to bide his time until 2028.
Trump and the Republican Party: "The virus has overcome the host"
If some Republican candidates dare to challenge Trump they also risk tearing the Republican Party apart given the passionate following Trump has. “The problem is that the party embraced Trump, so by trying to eliminate him the party would be eliminating themselves,” said Amandi.
He compared Trump’s influence over the party to a virus. “The virus has overcome the host. If you try to kill the virus you risk killing the host,” added.
Trump’s influence could also hurt the Republican party in the November mid-terms. Some candidates he backed in primaries are struggling, including former American football professional, Herschel Walker, who is running for the Senate in Georgia. Walker is trailing in the polls after a series of verbal gaffes and revelations about fathering multiple children by women he was not married to.
“They could have gotten a better candidate,” said Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, noting that Trump put his backing behind Walker. “But it’s hard to go against Trump and end up looking good,” he said.