Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author, with Peter Eisner, of the book “High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Frank Luntz, a longtime GOP pollster, said in a recent interview that many Republicans are laughing at former President Donald Trump in private. “They won’t say it, but behind his back, they think he’s a child. They’re laughing at him…Trump isn’t the same man he was a year ago. Even many Republicans are tired of going back and rehashing the 2020 election,” Luntz told the Daily Beast this week.
Earlier this week, Republican strategist Susan Del Percio said she believes many Americans are tired of Trump’s “big lie,” telling MSNBC, “The people of this country don’t want to hear about it anymore.”
Although the former President might dismiss the comments from Luntz and Del Percio, his problems go beyond the observations of two GOP operatives. A few of the high-profile Republican primary candidates he endorsed, including J.D. Vance, who is running for Senate in Ohio, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania, have prompted complaints from allies and longtime supporters, potentially fracturing his base and signaling his waning influence. Meanwhile, his drawing power at rallies has fallen to a level he might have previously found embarrassing. It may be time to ask: Is Trump losing his grip on the Republican Party?
Considering that he draws his real power from the enthusiasm of his loyalists, Trump’s biggest problem may be seen in the small crowd of about 1,000 to 2,000 people that turned out to see him at a rally last week in North Carolina, according to The News & Observer. In 2016, Trump attracted a crowd of 15,000 to the same venue.
It was at the rally last Saturday that Trump boosted several candidates he endorsed in this year’s primaries, including North Carolina GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who seems to be following in Trump’s footsteps when it comes to courting controversy. Cawthorn is currently on the outs with Republican congressional leaders due to his recent comments about being invited to orgies in Washington and seeing party leaders doing cocaine. (Cawthorn later said his comments were “used by the left and the media to disparage my Republican colleagues and falsely insinuate their involvement in illicit activities.”) Meanwhile, some locals are tiring of the congressman, who now faces several primary opponents after he decided to run in another district, only to return when a three-judge panel in North Carolina approved new redistricting maps.
A defeat for Cawthorn, who is Trump’s anointed candidate, would only add to the former President’s list of questionable endorsements. On Friday, Trump announced he would endorse Vance in Ohio, issuing a statement that said the “Hillbilly Elegy” writer was “our best chance for victory in what could be a very tough race.” But more than three dozen Republicans in the state had written a letter questioning Vance’s Republican credentials and urging Trump not to endorse him.
Trump also decided to back fellow TV personality Dr. Oz last week, which prompted criticism from the likes of Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who called it “a mistake.” Trump’s former counselor Kellyanne Conway echoed Ingraham’s sentiment and questioned Oz’s political stance while conservative radio host Erick Erickson took to Twitter to complain about Trump making “the worst possible endorsements” (although he laid the blame on the former President’s staffers instead). Erickson had also previously called Trump’s endorsement of David Perdue for governor of Georgia “the worst played hand in politics in America today.”
Some critics have also started wondering if Trump might end up being a godsend for Democrats, as Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post. In 2020, it seemed Trump’s endorsements of Kelly Loeffler and Perdue in the Georgia Senate runoff elections backfired and instead helped Democrats win a slim majority in the upper chamber. Rubin, who noted that Trump could be putting himself in political peril with these endorsements, wrote, “The risk is that if his choices flop, it will expose him as a has-been with little political sway.”
Weariness with Trump also bubbled to the surface earlier this month when New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu mocked him at the annual Gridiron dinner for Washington’s movers and shakers. Sununu began his remarks by sounding a note of optimism for Trump, describing his “experience,” “passion” and “sense of integrity” as revealed in the former President’s social media posts. Then he got laughs as he added, “Nah, I’m just kidding. He’s f—ing crazy.” That Sununu, who once called himself a “Trump guy through and through,” would make such a joke is a remarkable turn of events.
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Taken together, Trump’s troubles are encouraging to those of us who believe the country would be better off if the former President retired and spent the rest of his days playing golf. Of course, his critics have been declaring the end of his power and popularity for years, only to watch him achieve surprising success. So while I’m not saying that he will definitely stage a comeback – I don’t expect he will – it’s never a safe bet with Trump, who has repeatedly defied expectations.