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. See more opinion on CNN.
Frank Luntz, a longtime GOP pollster, said in a recent interview that many Republicans mock former President Donald Trump privately. “They won’t say it, but behind his back they think he’s a child. They laugh at him… Trump is not the same man as 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 thinks many Americans have had enough of Trump’s “big lie,” telling MSNBC, “The people of this country don’t want to hear about it anymore.”
While the former president may dismiss comments from Luntz and Del Percio, his issues go beyond the comments of two GOP operatives. A few of the top Republican primary candidates he has endorsed, including JD Vance, who is running for Senate in Ohio, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania, have drawn complaints from longtime allies and supporters, potentially fracturing his base and signaling his waning influence. Meanwhile, his drawing power at gatherings has dropped to a level he might have found embarrassing before. Perhaps it’s time to ask: Is Trump losing his grip on the Republican Party?
Considering he derives his real power from the enthusiasm of his loyalists, Trump’s biggest problem can be seen in the small crowd of around 1,000-2,000 who turned out to see him at a rally. last week in North Carolina, according to The News & Observer. In 2016, Trump drew a crowd of 15,000 to the same location.
It was at last Saturday’s rally that Trump backed several candidates he endorsed in this year’s primaries, including North Carolina GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who appears to be following in Trump’s footsteps in terms of courting controversy. Cawthorn is currently at odds with Republican leaders in Congress over his recent comments about being invited to orgies in Washington and seeing party leaders take cocaine. (Cawthorn later said his comments were “used by the left and the media to disparage my fellow Republicans and falsely insinuate their involvement in illicit activities.”) Meanwhile, some locals grow weary of the congressman, who now faces several primary opponents after deciding to run in another district, only to return when a three-judge panel in North Carolina approved new redistricting maps.
A defeat of Cawthorn, who is Trump’s elected nominee, would only add to the list of dubious endorsements of the former president. On Friday, Trump announced he would support Vance in Ohio, issuing a statement that the “Hillbilly Elegy” writer was “our best shot at 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, drawing criticism from Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who called it a “mistake. “. Former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway echoed Ingraham’s sentiment and questioned Oz’s political stance while conservative radio host Erick Erickson took to Twitter to complain about the fact that Trump was making “the worst mentions possible” (although he instead blamed the former president’s employees). Erickson also previously called Trump’s endorsement of David Perdue for Georgia governor “the worst hand played in politics in America today.”
Some critics also began to wonder if Trump might end up being a boon for Democrats, as Jennifer Rubin wrote in The Washington Post. In 2020, it looked like Trump’s endorsements of Kelly Loeffler and Perdue in Georgia’s Senate runoff election backfired and instead helped Democrats win a narrow upper house majority. Rubin, who noted that Trump could put himself in political danger with these endorsements, wrote: “The risk is that if his choices fail, it will expose him as a has-been with little political clout.
Weariness with Trump also surfaced earlier this month when New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu mocked him at the annual Gridiron dinner for Washington movers. Sununu began his remarks by sounding a note of optimism for Trump, describing his “experience”, “passion” and “sense of integrity”, as revealed by the former president’s social media posts. Then he had laughs adding: “Nah, just kidding. He is crazy. That Sununu, who once called himself a “Trump guy through and through”, would make such a joke is a remarkable turn of events.
Taken together, Trump’s troubles are encouraging to those of us who think the country would be better off if the former president retired and spent the rest of his life playing golf. Of course, his detractors declared the end of his power and popularity for years, only to see him achieve surprising success. So while I’m not saying he’ll definitely stage a comeback — I don’t expect him to — it’s never a safe bet with Trump, who has repeatedly defied expectations.