At some point over the short term, congressional Republicans are expected to approve a budget deal that could increase spending on the military, pay for disaster relief, raise the debt ceiling and fund the government through late March. Conservatives in the House aren’t excited about that combination, given that it does seem at odds with the party’s long-standing push to cut the deficit — a goal that isn’t aided by increasing spending. Like adding $30 billion to the Defense Department’s budget.
But President Trump wants a bigger military, and so the Republican Party has made its choice: a bigger military it is.
There has been a bit of a debate in recent days about how Republicans skeptical of Trump’s presidency should respond to it. Is it incumbent on those who oppose him to boycott the GOP? Should Republicans instead agree with his policies while keeping a wary eye on his behavior? What’s a Republican to do?
As it turns out, this question has largely been answered. Nearly all Republicans have decided that Trump is good, both as a politician and as a president. The fight over how the Republican Party should coexist with Trump was essentially lost in summer 2015, with capitulation.
This week, Gallup found that Trump’s approval rating has continued its recent improvement, once again hitting 40 percent, a figure last seen in May 2017.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward.
“Although it is impossible to determine definitively whether the address was a factor in the approval ratings uptick, his approval among Republicans did rise to 90%, the highest rating from this group since he took office,” Gallup’s Frank Newport writes. “Republicans’ approval had been at 87% the week before the speech. Democrats’ approval remained extremely low at 6% last week, while independents’ 33% approval was unchanged.”
Support from Republicans increased, and now Trump is more popular.
In fact, Trump is one of the most favorably viewed people in the Republican Party — among Republicans. Recent CNN-SSRS polling shows that Trump is viewed favorably by 85 percent of those in his own party. That’s higher than the rating for Vice President Pence (82 percent) House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) (66 percent) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose 31 percent approval was measured in September.
Trump’s even more favorably viewed within his party than George W. Bush, the most recent prior Republican president. There are few more direct ways to compare the Republican Party of the moment with the party as it stood before the 2016 election than to pit Trump against Bush. And Trump is viewed more positively.
Well, that’s not true. We can also compare Trump to another Bush — Jeb, the Bush brother who was expected to carry the mantle of the Republican establishment to the nomination in 2016. Jeb Bush was the inheritor of the Bush-Romney Republican Party and, while not hugely popular, he led the Republican field by a healthy margin after he informally declared his intent to run in late 2014.
At that point, people weren’t even polling on Trump. When Trump entered the race in June, he was still in the doldrums. Then, a sudden shift. Trump’s public fights with media outlets and businesses over immigration, kicked off by the comments he made during his campaign launch about immigrants from Mexico, gained him an expanded audience for his message, which he quickly leveraged. In a matter of days, he shot to the top of the field.
He stayed there.
More important, though, consider what happened to his favorability. When The Washington Post polled on possible candidates in May 2015, Trump was viewed favorably by 24 percent of Republicans. Two-thirds of his party had an unfavorable view of him — including more than 4 in 10 who had a strongly unfavorable view. Bush, by comparison, was viewed favorably by more than half of Republicans.
By August, Trump was viewed about as positively by Republicans as Bush. By January 2016, more than half of Republicans viewed Trump favorably, including a quarter who held strongly favorable views of him. By that point, Bush’s favorability was more negative than positive — and more than a quarter of Republicans viewed him strongly unfavorably.
We can view the above data another way: as trends for each of the politicians.
Trump, before he announced his candidacy, was a pariah to the Bush wing of the party. When he articulated his message, though, he found that it resonated with Republicans who vote. Over the course of 2016, he struggled against an establishment that, in fits and starts, tried to block his path to the nomination. But the base, for the most part, was already there. By the time of the convention, the transition was complete. By the middle of 2017, Pew Research found that the unorthodox approach Trump brought to politics was specifically why they liked him — not his policies.
None of this diminishes that there is a subset of the party that still views Trump skeptically. But separating him out from the party is, at this point, impossible. The base views him positively (85 percent favorable rating) and views his presidency favorably (90 percent) — which additionally serves as a disincentive for Republicans depending on Republican votes this November to buck him.
The budget battle has made it clear, as have other policy fights in the past: The Republican Party of 2018 is Trump’s. And consideration of the party without Trump means considering an isolated subset that may be overrepresented on Capitol Hill but which is underrepresented in any struggle for power within the Republican ranks.