USA TODAY US Edition

In GOP war, Trump vot­ers stand with him

Most em­brace de­bunked claims about Jan. 6 riot

- Su­san Page and Sarah Elbesh­bishi US Elections · U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · Elections · Republican Party Politics · Republican Party (United States) · Donald Trump · South Carolina Republican Party · United States of America · United States Senate · Milwaukee · Democratic Party (United States) · White House · Mitch McConnell · Orlando · Florida · Congress of the United States · Pennsylvania · West Coast · Texas · California · Treasure Island, FL · New Hampshire · Berlin · Joe Biden · Washington · Suffolk University · Jefferson Hills · Galveston, TX · Galveston · Vacaville, CA · Vacaville · Berlin, NH · Newsmax Media

If there’s a civil war in the Repub­li­can Party, the vot­ers who backed Don­ald Trump in Novem­ber’s elec­tion are ready to choose sides.

Be­hind Trump.

An ex­clu­sive Suf­folk Uni­ver­sity/USA TO­DAY Poll finds Trump’s sup­port largely un­shaken af­ter his se­cond im­peach­ment trial in the Se­nate, this time on a charge of in­cit­ing an in­sur­rec­tion in the deadly as­sault on the Capi­tol Jan. 6.

By dou­ble dig­its, 46%-27%, those sur­veyed say they would aban­don the GOP and join the Trump party if the for­mer pres­i­dent de­cided to cre­ate one. The rest are un­de­cided.

“We feel like Repub­li­cans don’t fight enough for us, and we all see Don­ald Trump fight­ing for us as hard as he can, ev­ery sin­gle day,” Bran­don Keidl, 27, a Repub­li­can and small-busi­ness owner from Mil­wau­kee, says af­ter be­ing polled. “But then you have es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans who just agree with es­tab­lish­ment Democrats and ev­ery­thing, and they don’t ever push back.”

Half of those polled say the GOP should be­come “more loyal to Trump,” even at the cost of los­ing sup­port among es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans. One in five, 19%, say the party should be­come less loyal to Trump and more aligned with es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans.

The sur­vey of 1,000 Trump vot­ers, iden­ti­fied from 2020 polls, was taken by land­line and cell­phone last Mon­day through Fri­day. The mar­gin of er­ror is plus or mi­nus 3.1 per­cent­age points.

They ex­press stronger loy­alty to Trump the per­son (54%) than they did to the Repub­li­can Party that twice nom­i­nated him for the White House (34%).

A post-Trump era? Not so fast

Those will pre­sum­ably be dis­tress­ing find­ings for Se­nate Repub­li­can leader Mitch Mc­Connell and other se­nior GOP fig­ures who had hoped Trump’s de­ci­sive de­feat for re­elec­tion and his sub­se­quent im­peach­ment might mean a postTrump era was poised to be­gin.

The over­whelm­ing al­le­giance the for­mer pres­i­dent com­mands among the party’s vot­ers gives him the stand­ing to weigh in on GOP pri­maries and seek ret­ri­bu­tion on those of­fice­hold­ers who voted to im­peach and con­vict him.

He is sched­uled to make his first ma­jor ad­dress since leav­ing the White House at the in­flu­en­tial Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence (CPAC) next Sun­day in Orlando, Florida.

Though a ma­jor­ity of the Se­nate voted to con­vict Trump in his se­cond im­peach­ment trial, by 57-43, law­mak­ers failed to reach the two-thirds thresh­old re­quired for con­vic­tion. He was ac­quit­ted Feb. 13.

Trump vot­ers are pre­pared to pun­ish those who crossed him.

Eight in 10 say they would be less likely to vote for a Repub­li­can can­di­date who sup­ported Trump’s im­peach­ment, as 10 rep­re­sen­ta­tives did in the House. An equal por­tion, 80%, say the seven Repub­li­can se­na­tors who voted to con­vict Trump were mo­ti­vated by po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions, not their con­sciences.

Trump doesn’t need to form a third party, says Fran­cis Zovko, 63, a Repub­li­can from Jef­fer­son Hills, Penn­syl­va­nia. “I think he’s just go­ing to, you know, take over the Repub­li­can Party, much as he did in 2016,” the sys­tems an­a­lyst says. “They all kind of thought he was a big joke, and by the end, they weren’t laugh­ing any­more.”

Only 4% say the im­peach­ment trial made them less sup­port­ive of Trump; 42% say it made them more sup­port­ive. Fifty-four per­cent say it didn’t af­fect their sup­port.

Em­brac­ing an un­truth

Most Trump vot­ers em­brace a ver­sion of events on Jan. 6 that has been de­bunked by in­de­pen­dent fact check­ers and law en­force­ment agen­cies.

Asked to de­scribe what hap­pened dur­ing the as­sault on the Capi­tol, 58% of Trump vot­ers call it “mostly an an­tifain­spired at­tack that only in­volved a few Trump sup­port­ers.”

That’s more than dou­ble the 28% who call it “a rally of Trump sup­port­ers, some of whom at­tacked the Capi­tol.” Four per­cent call it “an at­tempted coup in­spired by Pres­i­dent Trump.”

Law en­force­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions found no ev­i­dence of a role by an­tifa, a loose al­liance of left­ist, anti-fas­cist groups that have staged demon­stra­tions in some cities, par­tic­u­larly on the West Coast. Most of those ar­rested in the as­sault Jan. 6 iden­ti­fied them­selves as Trump sup­port­ers.

“It looked hor­ren­dous, but how are we to know who was ac­tu­ally tak­ing part?” asks Chris­tine Ro­driguez, 79, a Repub­li­can from Galve­ston, Texas, who was among those sur­veyed. “You could have some­body planted there from the left ... pre­tend­ing to be a real Trump sup­porter.”

“There were a va­ri­ety of peo­ple who were there,” says Wil­liam Case, 40, an elec­tri­cian and in­de­pen­dent voter from Va­cav­ille, Cal­i­for­nia. “I mean, out­side there was a bunch of Trump sup­port­ers that didn’t go in, but there’s video proof of other groups that did, an­tifa be­ing one of them. There were also re­porters that broke in and fol­lowed ev­ery­body.”

Though cre­den­tialed jour­nal­ists cov­ered the at­tack, some af­ter be­ing trapped in the Capi­tol, none has been charged with wrong­do­ing. No one known to be af­fil­i­ated with an­tifa has been among those ar­rested.

In the poll, more than nine of 10 Trump vot­ers say the for­mer pres­i­dent isn’t guilty of in­cit­ing an in­sur­rec­tion. Al­most 8 in 10 say the crowd would have stormed the Capi­tol even if Trump hadn’t urged them to “fight like hell” at a rally out­side the White House.

Call­ing Trump re­spon­si­ble for the at­tack is “in­sane,” protests Jane Wiles, 76, a re­tired in­sur­ance man­ager from Trea­sure Is­land, Florida.

“Was he there? No. Un­less he was there lead­ing the pack, he is not re­spon­si­ble.”

By 2-1, 59%-29%, Trump vot­ers say they want him to run for pres­i­dent again in 2024. If he ran, three of four, 76%, would sup­port him for the nom­i­na­tion; 85% would vote for him in a gen­eral elec­tion.

“I think he’s prob­a­bly ex­hausted,” says Peter St. Ong, 47, an in­de­pen­dent voter from Berlin, New Hamp­shire. Trump might de­cide not to run again, he says, then re­con­sid­ers: “He seems to be more or less ad­dicted to be­ing the cen­ter of con­ver­sa­tion, so I would hon­estly be pretty shocked” if he didn’t run again in 2024.

Even so, St. Ong sug­gests it’s pos­si­ble that in four years, the Repub­li­can Party would be ready to turn to a fresh face. “I do like the pop­ulist ideas that he has brought into the party,” he says of Trump. On the other hand, “his mouth kind of got away with him some­times, and I think some of these other peo­ple have a lit­tle bit more dis­ci­pline, so they might be more suc­cess­ful, more able to reach across the aisle.”

No hon­ey­moon for Bi­den

Trump vot­ers aren’t ready to ac­knowl­edge Joe Bi­den as pres­i­dent de­spite his mar­gin of vic­tory of 7 mil­lion votes na­tion­wide.

Three of four, 73%, say Bi­den wasn’t le­git­i­mately elected. Most don’t want their rep­re­sen­ta­tives to co­op­er­ate with him, even if that means grid­lock in Washington.

Six in 10, 62%, say con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans “should do their best to stand up to Bi­den on ma­jor poli­cies, even if it means lit­tle gets passed.” That’s more than dou­ble the 26% who say con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans “should do their best to work with Bi­den on ma­jor poli­cies, even if it means mak­ing com­pro­mises.”

There are dis­qui­et­ing find­ings in the poll for Fox News, which has pros­pered as the dom­i­nant news source for con­ser­va­tives. In a USA TO­DAY/Suf­folk Poll in Oc­to­ber 2016, 58% of Trump vot­ers said Fox was their most trusted source of news. In the new poll, that drops to 34%.

Trust has risen in two rel­a­tively new out­lets that have made their rep­u­ta­tions by cham­pi­oning Trump. News­max is the most trusted among 17% of Trump vot­ers, fol­lowed by 9% for One Amer­i­can News Net­work, or OANN.

David Pa­le­ol­o­gos, di­rec­tor of the Suf­folk Uni­ver­sity Po­lit­i­cal Re­search Cen­ter, says the find­ings could re­flect “a seis­mic shift in the land­scape of trusted news sources for con­ser­va­tives in the coun­try.”

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