The House GOP’s move to remove Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership position is widely seen as the latest move to placate the base at the risk of alienating the center of the electorate. Cheney had voted to impeach former President Donald Trump and has continued her critiques of him while most other Republicans seem to have a hard time distancing themselves from him.
But a look at the statistics reveals that Republicans may be playing it right when it comes to Trump.
The belief that Republicans should not try to placate Trump or his supporters comes down to the fact that he is unpopular and just lost a presidential election.
That said, there’s little sign that Trump is even on the minds’ of most voters these days. He’s not on Twitter, and Google searches for him are way down. Indeed, there’s not much of a sign that the GOP’s association with Trump is hurting them at this point.
Take a look at the generic congressional ballot. Democrats hold a slight lead of about 3 to 4 points in an average of polls. Trump lost the 2020 election by 4.5 points, and House Republicans lost nationally by 3.1 points.
In other words, Republicans are in no worse position than they were in the 2020 election. In fact, they’re actually polling better now on the generic ballot than they were heading into the last election by about 3 to 4 points because polling across the board underestimated Republicans.
If Republicans were underperforming their baseline, you’d expect them to be doing worse than what President Joe Biden’s approval ratings would suggest. Biden’s net approval rating (approval - disapproval) among voters is just north of +10 points, which is actually more than double the Democrats’ advantage on the generic ballot.
When we look at the limited data, as compiled by Ethan Chen, from special legislative elections throughout the country during the Biden administration, we see a similar trend.
Comparing the results in those elections to the 2020 presidential election in those districts, we see that there hasn’t been much movement on the whole.
Examining all special elections where at least one Democrat and one Republican ran, Republicans are outperforming their 2020 baseline by 3 points on average. Not counting those elections with multiple Democrats or Republicans running (i.e. jungle primaries) or with a major independent candidate, Republicans are matching their 2020 position.
Keep in mind that even a small tick toward the Republicans would have resulted in a very different outcome in 2020. Biden won the state that put him over the top in the Electoral College (Wisconsin) by less than a point. Republicans were just 5 seats away from getting a House majority and a mere 1 seat from earning a Senate majority.
They don’t need a lot of things to change to win back the House or the Senate in 2022.
Republicans only need their 2020 base and a little more.
If Republicans detach themselves from Trump too much, they risk alienating Trump and many of his voters. We know from Pew Research Center polling that a majority of Republicans don’t want the party to be accepting of elected officials who openly criticize him.
We also know from the Pew polling that nearly two-thirds of Republicans don’t want the party to be accepting of elected officials who voted to impeach Trump.
We’ve already seen what can happen when these voters feel demotivated. In the lead up to the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff elections, Trump had sought to falsely cast doubts on the ability of the state to accurately count votes.
The result was dampened Republican turnout. Republican Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene’s heavily Republican congressional district saw the largest dropoff in votes cast of any congressional district from the 2020 general election.
As we head into the 2022 elections, it’s not difficult to see Trump pulling similar shenanigans as he did in Georgia. He owes the party nothing, and he has nothing to lose.
The best case scenario for Republicans is to turn out his voters, while trying to keep Trump out of the limelight.
Right now, it could be argued they’re doing exactly that.