The New Republican Party Is Here
Trump’s positions are the GOP’s positions on immigration & entitlements
By: Avery James
The “old Republican Party is gone, and it is never coming back,” claimed former president Donald Trump at last week’s RNC gathering. What is the “old Republican Party” in his view? As reported by Politico, it means “a party known for starting wars overseas, cutting Social Security and Medicare at home, and pushing mass amnesty for illegal aliens.” Interestingly, Donald Trump isn’t the only one who thinks this. In fact, this may be the one area where Donald Trump and folks at The Bulwark seem to agree.
With all this talk of a permanent realignment of Republican politics, we wanted to explore: is it true? Is the “old Republican Party” really gone?
Here at Echelon Insights, we are always going into the field to gain fresh insight, and we have some of the richest trend lines about under-the-radar shifts in today’s GOP. One of those trendlines is whether Republican voters identify primarily as supporters of Donald Trump or supporters of the Republican Party. We categorize those segments as party-first and Trump-first Republicans. In March, 52% said they are party-first Republicans, while 38% considered themselves primarily Trump supporters.
This is a consistent trend, as a narrow majority of Republicans have described themselves as party-first since October of last year. While education is a divide we consistently see regarding the former president, it does not appear to meaningfully affect voters in this respect. The non-college Republican voters surveyed last month deemed themselves party-first by a 10-point margin, while college-educated Republicans did so by a 19-point margin. So to better understand the Republican electorate, we tested six pairs of statements with a populist and establishment policy view.
Let’s look at the issues Trump raised in his remarks at the RNC. First, on entitlements, he’s right—Republicans have little appetite for cuts. We found overwhelming majorities of Trump and party-first Republicans favor ruling Social Security and Medicare out of plans to balance the budget. Ruling out cuts to the two massive programs wins out against the older establishment position, 72-22.
Trump is also right about where Republicans stand on immigration. Across all Republican voters, an enormous majority say that Americans lose employment opportunities when foreign workers enter the United States. Here too, the populist statement beats the establishment statement by an enormous margin, 66-20. There is little appetite in the Republican party to return to Bush-era policy in this regard.
But where Trump is on shakier ground is foreign policy, where Republicans reject the populist “America First” view by a wide 20-point margin. Republican voters, especially party-first ones, stated that Americans are better off when the United States is seen as a strong leader around the world. Even more striking, Trump-first Republicans favor American leadership in the world, though by a narrower 3-point margin.
But that’s not all. Recall the ‘three-legged stool of conservatism’? Lately, there’s been debate about whether Republicans are still free-marketeers. We asked two questions about the intersection of politics and business and found the party has relatively close divides. When it comes to the topic of “woke capital”, Republicans favor businesses running as they see fit by a 9-point margin.
Nor are Republicans necessarily against businesses addressing climate change and taking environmental action on their own. While Trump-first Republicans were closely divided (46-43), party-first Republicans didn’t mind private companies trying their own ways to be environmentally friendly or reduce carbon emissions, by a 27-point margin. Overall, Republicans say they don’t mind private companies wanting to be environmentally friendly, 54-34.
Finally, the social and cultural issues that once defined the GOP in the 2000s and into the 2010s were often ones such as religious liberty and abortion. While both remain live issues today, we wanted to see how those two issues compared to more recent concerns among Republicans today. When we pressed respondents to choose which social challenges concern them most, “radical gender and racial ideologies” are narrowly more concerning to Republicans, whether Trump-first (by a 14-point margin) or party-first (by 10 points.)
Across the six topics, we find meaningful breaks within the Republican party on matters of foreign policy and environmental issues. These are very much live issues that contain significant differences between party-first and Trump-first Republicans. But when it comes to maintaining entitlements and skepticism of immigration, our recent polling suggests considerable agreement along a populist line.
This even remains the case even while considering major Republican politicians for 2024. When evaluating groups of Republicans considering Trump, DeSantis, both, or neither, we found consistent support for the populist positions on immigration and entitlements.
Perhaps future discussions of “Trumpism” and the Republican party can be better informed by paying attention to such nuances in policy evolution of the GOP. A competitive 2024 party primary will reveal divisions, no doubt to be covered in depth by political writers. But it can be just as important to predict where consensus already exists before any candidate debates have taken place.