Donald Trump is teasing another run for president of the United States. Not eight months since he left office, Trump is fueling speculation by saying things like “I think you’re going to be happy” when asked about trying for a comeback in 2024. He hasn’t exactly been shy about his desire to win back his old job, but Politico reported last week that “he’s signaling a heightened interest in reclaiming the White House—and laying the necessary groundwork to do it.” At the same time, a new CNN poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents found roughly half of respondents “saying the party would be better off with a different nominee” in three years, even as an overwhelming majority believe he should be the party’s leader. Ambitious right-wing politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence are weighing their options. How much influence does Trump still wield in the Republican Party—and how is he shaping its future?

Tim Miller is a writer at large for The Bulwark and a former Republican operative, who was the communications director for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign in 2016 and the political director for Republican Voters Against Trump in last year’s election. Miller says Trump remains hugely influential among Republicans, with polls showing that about half consider themselves more loyal to Trump than to the party overall. Miller believes that Trump would be the “overwhelming favorite” in the 2024 primary if he entered the race, noting that the other leading prospective candidates seem averse to criticizing the former president directly. It wouldn’t surprise Miller if Trump ended up facing no challengers at all—or merely getting a challenge from a token anti-Trump candidate on a political “kamikaze mission.” Ahead of next year’s midterm elections, Trump’s enduring influence is visible in Republican candidates either repeating his lies about last year’s election being stolen or declining to contradict them. It’s one of many reasons why, in Miller’s view, Trump has reshaped the party for the medium term and perhaps even the long term, including by altering the makeup of the Republican and Democratic electoral coalitions.

Graham Vyse: How much influence does Donald Trump still have in the Republican Party?

Tim Miller: A ton of influence, and his influence is driven from the bottom up—from the voters. It’s driven in part by his skill at manipulating other Republican politicians. A lot of them have been unwilling to stand up to him, which has allowed him to retain his power, but the biggest reason he’s been able to retain power is because it’s what voters want.

Obviously, there are a lot of differences between Trump and George W. Bush, who is a man of decency and who let people separate from him if would help them politically. His north star wasn’t just satiating his ego and the hole in his stomach. Another difference is that when Bush’s popularity dropped—as the Iraq War became more unpopular, after Hurricane Katrina, and following Harriet Miers’ nomination [to the U.S. Supreme Court]—he didn’t retain a political base he could use to wield power. It wasn’t as if there was a Republican base that really wanted unadulterated Bushism by the mid-to-late 2000s. But when Trump’s numbers bottomed out completely with Democrats, tanked with independents, and went down with softer Republicans, if anything he gained an increasing stranglehold among the half of the Republican base that wants Trumpism. If you look at a heavily Republican district, he’ll have a 90 percent approval rating among a certain class of Republicans there.

Gage Skidmore

Vyse: To your point, a new CNN poll shows that Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say—by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent—that Trump “should be the leader of the Republican Party.” At the same time, only 51 percent say Republicans “have a better chance of retaking the presidency if Trump is the nominee” in 2024, while 49 percent say “the party would be better off with a different nominee.” That’s just one poll, of course. What’s your sense of how the party feels about Trump?

Miller: Echelon Insights does a good poll asking Republican voters, “Would you say you consider yourself to be primarily a supporter of Donald Trump, or a supporter of the Republican Party?” That number moves around a bit, but about 50 percent of the party considers itself to be pro-Trump first and Republican second. There’s another 10 to 20 percent that really likes Trump still—on top of the 50 percent—and another 10 percent or so that likes Trump quite a bit. So, you’re down to 35 or 40 percent of the party that’s either ready to move on or has some doubts about Trump and his electability—and only about 10 or 15 percent actively wants to move on. That’s enough to maintain a stranglehold over the party, even if there’s a minority dissenting. Some people say, Well, 51 percent isn’t good for Trump, but the position he’s in right now is around the peak of where he was in his winning 2016 primary campaign.

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