That point was reinforced in a poll the Pew Research Center released Wednesday. Among the findings? If there’s a dispute between Trump and Republican leaders on the Hill, a majority of Republican voters trust Trump’s position more than those of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Even if Ryan and McConnell disagree with Trump, in other words, most Republicans would rather they fall in line than speak out — which is exactly what they’ve done.
But, then, this power dynamic isn’t new. In October, with Trump trailing Hillary Clinton nationally by nine points, Bloomberg News asked a similar question: Between Trump and Ryan, whose view better matches your own of what the Republican Party should stand for?
The results were almost the same. More than half of respondents picked Trump over Ryan.
In May, NBC News and its partners at SurveyMonkey asked another variant: Whom do you trust more to lead the Republican Party? Republicans, once again, picked Trump.
The alternative-history question that emerges is what would have happened if Trump, as expected, had lost. Who would lead the party? What would happen to his base of support? To what extent would Capitol Hill Republicans have been able to stick together, with Trump pulling in one direction and Ryan the other?
Because of those 78,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that scenario didn’t emerge. Instead, congressional Republicans quickly moved to stand behind Trump, allowing him to be the leader that Republicans always wanted him to be.
The footnote? That move has reaped rewards for Capitol Hill Republicans, too. The party’s caucus is more popular with Republicans now than at any point in the past eight years.
One thing we can say with confidence: Had Trump lost, a lot more Republicans would have ended up voting “no” on the incoming president’s Cabinet picks, regardless of who was serving as the party’s presumptive leader.