We saw two ends of the Republican Party attacked this week. Rep. Liz Cheney successfully fought off an intraparty challenge for her spot in the House GOP leadership. And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was stripped of committee memberships by the full House, after the Republicans refused to do it themselves.
The battles of Cheney and Greene this week are proxy battles for a larger fight. You have Cheney, representing the older guard institutionalist wing whose most prominent member is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Then you have Greene, who has claimed the backing of former President Donald Trump and has been bashed by McConnell.
And while the institutionalists won this week and the Trump wing suffered a rebuke, the battle among the Republican electorate is going a very different way. The institutionalists of the Republican Party are losing out to those who have Trump’s blessing.
We don’t have a lot of really good polling on how voters view Cheney and Greene. The numbers we do have suggest what you might expect. Cheney’s ratings are strongly negative among Republicans nationally. Greene’s mostly unknown, but has better ratings among those Republicans who are familiar with her.
Where we do have a lot of high quality polling is the leaders of Congress, particularly McConnell. He has arguably been the most mainstream Republican (i.e. not inherently anti-Trump) to try and move the party on from Trump. His popularity among Republicans has plummeted as a result.
Take a look at a Quinnipiac University poll out this week. It tested the ratings of different leaders.
McConnell came in with just a 21% approval to 67% disapproval rating among Americans at-large. He sported the lowest approval and highest disapproval rating of any of the party leaders in Congress.
Even among Republicans, he came in with just a 31% approval rating compared to a 51% unfavorable rating. (CNN/SSRS showed his favorable rating among Republicans somewhat higher in January, though still under his unfavorable rating.) McConnell ended his time as Senate majority leader with the worst intraparty ratings for a Senate majority leader since 1985.
Now compare where McConnell is to Trump. In the same CNN poll, Trump came in with a 34% approval rating and a 62% disapproval rating. With Republicans, he was at 80% approval to 17% disapproval. This comports with Trump remaining in a strong position for the 2024 nomination.
Clearly, Republican prefer Trump to McConnell.
You won’t find another party leader in Congress who sports a net negative approval rating among their own party, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has worked to navigate between the different wings of the party. He voted to sustain the objections to the electoral votes from Pennsylvania, for example.
Many have critiqued McCarthy, though his efforts have resulted in him being far better liked among Republicans. In the Quinnipiac poll, for example, his approval rating among Republicans stood at 47% to a 25% disapproval rating.
The McCarthy and McConnell comparison is useful for another reason: We can compare their ratings across time.
McConnell hasn’t always been this unpopular with Republicans. Back in September, he was at a +44 point net favorability (favorable - unfavorable) among likely Republican voters in a New York Times/Siena College poll. McCarthy wasn’t asked about in that particular poll, though other polling from that time period shows him about as popular with Republicans as he is now.
Before the last CNN poll, McConnell had a string of positive net favorability ratings of +20 points or higher in CNN polling dating back to 2018.
What happened between September and now? Well for one thing, McConnell, unlike McCarthy, didn’t back Trump’s challenge to his loss in the presidential election. Most Republicans, of course, think falsely that President Joe Biden only won because of electoral fraud.
This fits a pattern of McConnell’s ratings declining when Republicans are forced to choose between Trump and McConnell.
The last time McConnell had a net negative favorability rating with Republicans in CNN polling was in September 2017. That year, McConnell and Trump were feuding in the late summer and early fall. As Politico noted at the time, “the tit-for-tat between Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the chamber’s failure to repeal Obamacare opens a politically perilous schism.”
Trump won that battle within the party easily, as he is winning this time.
Until something dramatically changes in the Republican Party, the pattern will remain the same for Republicans who go after Trump or anything associated with him. They will find out that Republican voters don’t like that very much.