The bad news is that large majorities of Republicans are very much on board with much of what Trump has done.
First, let’s note that truly overwhelming majorities, including among Republicans, condemn the attack itself. That’s great, but deeper in the crosstabs are some pretty dispiriting findings.
On questions that probe underlying attitudes about Trump’s efforts to undermine democracy, the contrast between the broader public and Republican respondents is stark. Here’s a rundown:
- By 66 percent to 30 percent, Americans overall say Trump acted irresponsibly in his statements and actions since the election. But Republicans say Trump acted responsibly by 66 percent to 29 percent.
- By 62 percent to 31 percent, Americans say there’s no solid evidence of the claims of voter fraud that Trump cited to refuse to accept Joe Biden’s victory. But Republicans say there is solid evidence of fraud by 65 percent to 25 percent.
- 57 percent of Americans say Trump bears a great deal or good amount of responsibility for the assault on the Capitol. But 56 percent of Republicans say Trump bears no responsibility at all, and another 22 percent say he bears just some, totaling 78 percent who largely exonerate him.
- 52 percent of Americans say Republican leaders went too far in supporting Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. But 51 percent of Republicans say GOP leaders didn’t go far enough, while 27 percent say they got it right, a total of 78 percent who are fully on board or wanted more. Only 16 percent of Republicans say they went too far.
On these questions, independents are far more in sync with the broader public: In this poll, support for what Trump did is largely a Republican phenomenon.
Meanwhile, solid majorities of Americans believe Trump should be charged with a crime for inciting the riot (54 percent) and removed from office (56 percent). But among Republicans, opposition to both is running in the mid-80s, demonstrating extraordinary GOP unity against any form of accountability.
To sum up: Large majorities of Republicans support the effort by GOP leaders to overturn the election (which included lawsuits designed to summarily invalidate millions of votes and an extraordinary effort to scuttle Biden’s electors in Congress) and believe (or say they believe) that those GOP leaders were joining Trump’s efforts to correct a confirmed injustice done to him.
By the way, this poll also badly complicates a comforting narrative that has emerged in the aftermath of the storming of the Capitol: The idea that the refusal to accept democratic outcomes is largely driven by economic dispossession.
Indeed, a small but real core of respondents who are either college-educated or come from households with incomes of $100,000 and more say there is solid evidence of Trump’s fraud claims, that Trump bears no responsibility for the attack, that he has acted responsibly, and that GOP leaders did not go too far in helping him try to nullify the election.
In our poll’s crosstabs, the percentages of those classes of educated and relatively affluent voters who support those positions vary from the low-to-mid-20s to the low 30s. As Adam Serwer suggests, there was a middle-class strain among the rioters — cops, reactionary business owner-operator types — and that pattern may be reflected more broadly in an educated and middle-class reactionary component to support for overturning hated election outcomes.
Republicans navigate authoritarian currents
It is strange and dispiriting to watch the more ambitious Republicans try to navigate these surging sentiments inside their rank and file.
While they surely would have cheered if Trump and the party had succeeded in overturning the election (ignore the nonsense that they attempted this only because they were certain it would fail), many Republicans have treated this as something that can be easily harnessed for their own instrumental purposes.
Dan Crenshaw of Texas, for instance, appeared in an authoritarian cosplay video depicting him as a commando in the military war against leftists (Jonathan Chait calls this “authoritarian porn”), and Crenshaw joined the lawsuit to overturn the election. Yet he has also tried to present himself as a pious defender of the constitutional process for counting electors.
Meanwhile, Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz jockeyed for position as leader of the effort to subvert the election in Congress, and Hawley saluted the rioters before the insurrection. Now both are scrambling to find their way back to the sweet spot, in which they oppose the violence but without retracting their active enabling of the stolen-election fiction that incited it.
Bubbling underneath all this is the fact that there really is a serious anti-democratic movement afoot among the class of intellectuals who are trying to carve out a purportedly respectable version of Trumpist post-liberalism.
How deep all this runs among the GOP electorate, and what it will mean for the future of GOP politics, is hard to say. But it’s hard to look at the above polling and feel optimistic.