PALM BEACH — On the second anniversary of the U.S. Capitol riot, a much smaller crowd than usual attended a show of support nespanr former President Donspanld Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago club.
Rather than the hundreds of loyalists that gather periodically in the vicinity of the Palm Beach compound, whether to protest span seizure of documents by the FBI or to celebrate the former president’s birthday, just a few dozen were there during a balmy sunset.
The sparse showing again fueled chatter among pundits of Trump’s presumed diminished political status. It is speculation that grew in the final quarter of 2022 following a disappointing midterm election for his Republican Party, a dinner with a white supremacist and a volatile rapper, the guilty verdict against the former first family’s business and a dspanmning report from span congressionspanl committee that lay the blame for the violence on Capitol Hill at Trump’s feet and criminally referred him to the Justice Department for leading what members of the panel said was a coup attempt.
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Observing the fewer number of Trump followers around him last week, Alex Gonzalez, a member of the Born to Ride for 45 motorcycle group, allowed that, yes, perhaps enthusiasm has eased a bit.
“Some people have amnesia for good things and they just want to move on,” Gonzalez said.
But he offered this succinct caution to those jumping at the chance to dismiss Trump: “I believe that he has a lot of support.”
A Florida pollster who has surveyed voters on Trump, Republicans and public policy issues for years agrees. When his team of surveyors goes into the field in the next month or so, Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida, said he would not be surprised to see significant support behind Trump, despite the past year’s stumbles and erosion in some polls.
“If you are discounting him, you do that at your own peril,” he said. “I still think he is influential in the Republican Party. I think he is influential among his core supporters, very much so. And they are not an insignificant group, particularly in a primary.”
Polls: Trump still enjoys GOP support, though less so than in the past
Nonetheless, it is clear the vise grip Trump appeared to have on the GOP electorate waned in the past year.
A Quinnipiac University national poll released last month showed 59% of those asked said they held an “unfavorable” view of Trump — his lowest standing since July 2015. Quinnipiac’s survey also showed that while 70% of GOP respondents still saw him favorably, 20% did not. The latter figure was the highest unfavorable score for him in nearly seven years, the polling group said.
Another year-end survey by and YouGov showed Trump sliding among Republicans and independent voters that “lean towards” the party, as just 46% wanted him to be a candidate in 2024 while 37% did not.
Those results and other signs in the political heavens seem to have emboldened some GOP leaders to distance, if not outright breakaway, from the former president’s orbit.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is in his 17th year as the chamber’s GOP chief, seemingly taunted Trump on Jan. 4 by joining President Joe Biden on an infrastructure victory lap that was punctuated with a handshake. Welcoming Biden to his Kentucky home state, McConnell sounded a bipartisan tone antithetical to Trump’s uncompromising combativeness in saying “no matter who gets elected, once it’s all over, we ought to look for things that we can agree on and try to do those.”
A year ago, a number of potential GOP White House suitors said they would shelve their presidential aspirations if Trump launched his candidacy, which he did on Nov. 15. But now New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said he is having “conversations” about a 2024 presidential campaign.
Advisers and aides to a former brethren in a key battleground state, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, say Kemp has newfound leverage to distance himself from Trump after handily winning re-election two months ago despite being targeted for defeat in a primary.
The wild card is a fellow Florida man, Gov. Ron DeSantis. Trump’s public berating of DeSantis backfired last fall, and the two men never mention each other’s names.
DeSantis has not commented on a widely-speculated 2024 presidential bid, or the polls showing more and more Republicans favoring him. But it will aggravate Trump to no end to likely see the governor in the conservative media eye throughout this spring’s session of the Florida Legislature.
To be sure, Trump remains the lone candidate in the 2024 field. But he also remains beset by major legal questions and issues ahead of him in 2023.
On Jan. 9, a Georgia grand jury that heard testimony into whether Trump tried to coerce Peach State election officials to “find” him enough votes to falsely win the state’s electoral votes submitted its findings to an Atlanta area district attorney. A federal special counsel named by the Justice Department is reportedly deepening the probe into allegations Trump sought to overturn the 2020 election, as well as his possession of sensitive classified materials after leaving office.
Policy proposals, salvos at McConnell, House speaker battle a mixed bag but most ardent supporters back him
Trump, however, has entered 2023 apparently determined to reassert his standing as the party’s vanguard leader, albeit to mixed results. He shared on his Truth Social platform a Jan. 8 poll from CBS News that said 65% of Republicans still value party fealty to him.
Early this month, too, he issued a policy proposal to combat drug cartels that included “deploying all necessary military assets to impose a full naval embargo.” Like many of the former president’s campaign and rally speeches, it was heavy on muscular rhetoric but light on details and did not get media traction other than on right-wing outlets like Newsmax.
A big moment lies ahead next month. Trump ally Mike Lindell, the pillow maker being sued for false election fraud claims in a $1.3 billion lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems, a voting machine company, is leading a charge to defeat Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel’s re-election effort.
Trump, according to an interview with Breitbart news, isn’t choosing sides in the RNC election. But Trump recently called for GOP primary opponents against McConnell and his cohorts in the U.S. Senate. In a post on Truth Social, Trump said “we must now stop Mitch McConnell” saying that it looks like “he just doesn’t care anymore, he pushes through anything the Democrats want.”
Trump actively sought to unite the House Republican caucus party behind California Congressman Kevin McCarthy during the bruising, at times humiliating, deadlock over the speakership vote.
As some reported, an 11th-hour call from Trump to hold-out Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz busted the stalemate. After winning the speaker’s gavel on the record 15th ballot, McCarthy thanked Trump saying, “I don’t think anybody should doubt his influence.”
Still, for four days, Trump’s appeals to the recalcitrant GOP House members and his optimistic projections consistently and awkwardly fell flat. Gaetz, an ardent Trump ally, parodied the former president in a tweet while QAnon-backing Colorado U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, another steadfast backer of Trump, lectured him from the House floor in telling him to call on McCarthy to withdraw his nomination.
The spectacle of seeing Trump “called out,” said U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Montana Republican who served as Trump’s Interior Department secretary, was “absolutely inappropriate.” McCarthy’s election, in the end, was secured by a number of rules and committee membership moves more so than the former president’s support.
Some of those gathered near a parking area along Southern Boulevard just west of Mar-a-Lago on Jan. 6 said they weren’t too broken up to see McCarthy chastened for those four days.
“He goes whichever way the wind was blowing,” said Kathy Clark of West Palm Beach. “After Jan. 6, he turned against Trump instantly.”
Others said those making the case that Trump has lost mojo are underestimating him — once again.
“Trump is always relevant because they make him relevant,” Debbie Macchia said of the former president’s critics. “He hasn’t been president, he hasn’t done anything, so he shouldn’t have been in the spotlight in the first place, but he’s always in the spotlight because they hate him.”
Nearby, Maria Korynsel of North Palm Beach agreed, saying Trump’s influence remains powerful and unwavering.
“I don’t think Trump will ever lose his supporters,” she said vowing that: “We are here, we will always be here, he was the one who brought light to how bad the swamp and the establishment was … Because of him, he has literally changed millions of peoples minds.”