The results of the Virginia gubernatorial race did not offer Republicans skeptical about President Trump much reason to embrace the president more tightly. Ed Gillespie, their party’s candidate, tried to run on the same rhetoric about immigration and crime that Trump leveraged to win the White House — and got crushed. Then, even before Gillespie had given his concession speech, Trump was disparaging his campaign effort on Twitter.
Not the sort of pattern that will make Republicans enthusiastic about Trump.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week offered another angle on the question of whether Republicans should embrace Trump. We asked Republicans and Republican-leaning independents whether party leaders should speak out when they disagree with Trump or should avoid doing so.
In June 2016, we asked a similar question about Trump, and 62 percent said that Republicans should speak out. In the new poll, the figure was 71 percent.
When broken out by demographic, there’s an interesting spread. Those who are critical of Trump — saying he hasn’t accomplished much or kept his campaign promises — are the most likely to say that Republicans should speak out when they disagree with Trump. Those who think he’s been successful are less likely to say so. The group least supportive of leaders confronting Trump is white evangelical Republicans, a key part of his base — though a majority of that group also agrees that Republicans should do so.
We have seen some instances in which Republicans have confronted Trump when they disagree with him. Take, for example, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). He’s been consistently critical of Trump for months, questioning the president’s stability and capability. Since Corker announced his decision not to seek reelection, that criticism has only increased.
As our Aaron Blake noted last month, though, that’s come at a cost. In February, Corker’s net favorability among Republicans (those viewing him favorably minus those viewing him unfavorably) was plus 40. After his feud with Trump gained national attention — and blowback from the president — perceptions of Corker among members of his party tanked. Last month, he was at minus 12, a 52-point swing.
A similar pattern was seen when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) challenged Trump. A Fox News poll in September found that most Republicans viewed McCain negatively — including a quarter who held a strongly unfavorable view of McCain.
It’s possible, then, that Republicans like the idea of challenging Trump in the abstract. That, asked whether the president should be held accountable, Republicans say that he should be. When it actually happens, though, it’s not well received.
Or perhaps it’s the manner in which Corker and McCain (and others) have challenged Trump that Republicans dislike. Or perhaps it’s a coincidence that Corker’s numbers dropped as he took on Trump.
The question we began with, though, was whether Republicans would feel warranted in standing in opposition to Trump. These poll results point toward an answer of yes — but it would take a brave politician to actually act on what the poll respondents say they would like to see.
If there’s one thing we know about politicians, “bravery” isn’t usually the first word we associate with them.