Donald Trump is now the GOP establishment

Former President Donald Trump gestures as he attends a campaign event in Coralville, Iowa, on December 13, 2023.

Former President Donald Trump gestures as he attends a campaign event in Coralville, Iowa, on December 13, 2023.Vincent Alban/ReutersCNN — 

When you think of Donald Trump’s relationship with the Republican Party, some of the first words that may come to mind are “insurgent” and “anti-establishment.” After all, the businessman and former reality television star was able to win the 2016 nomination with little backing from GOP members of Congress and governors.

But that was then, and the landscape today – less than a month from the 2024 Iowa caucuses – is very different. Trump isn’t an insurgent any longer.

In fact, a look at the data reveals that Trump now is the establishment.

Consider the endorsement race. This past week, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu backed Nikki Haley in a potential boost to her candidacy in Republicans’ first primary state. Ron DeSantis welcomed similar news last month when Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds endorsed him.

These were, however, exceptions to the rule.

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About 100 members of Congress and governors have backed Trump. House Speaker Mike Johnson has endorsed the former president, and his predecessor Kevin McCarthy has said he’ll support Trump.

Since 1980, only two Republican presidential candidates in a primary without an incumbent have had more endorsements at this point: Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000. Both of them were creatures of the establishment, with Dole a former – and future – Senate majority leader at the time and Bush a well-liked governor and son of a former president.

Trump is doing considerably better in endorsements than the two most recent other GOP nominees before him (John McCain and Mitt Romney). That’s notable because both men were part of the GOP establishment that tried to stop Trump in the past and whom Trump has attacked.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a Commit to Caucus rally, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Ankeny, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

Trump is even stronger than he looks against his Republican rivals

For 2024, neither DeSantis nor Haley are anywhere close to Trump in the endorsement race. DeSantis has only about a combined seven governors and members of Congress behind him, while Haley has two, including Sununu.

Even if you put Haley and DeSantis together, Trump has about 10 times as many endorsements.

History tells us the large number of endorsements is good news for Trump. In 2016, he won the Republican nomination without procuring the most endorsements before the Iowa caucuses.

But endorsements aren’t the only way Trump’s 2024 campaign seems to be much more establishment-oriented than his 2016 bid.

Trump is the overwhelming fundraising leader on the GOP side this time. His political operation pulled in over $45 million in the most recent quarter. DeSantis and Haley were way back with hauls of about $15 million and $11 million respectively.

In the same quarter in 2015, Trump took in just $3.9 million. He wasn’t even in the top five for Republican candidates. A large part of that was because Trump had shunned fundraising. He was, after all, an insurgent candidate.

Trump shed that insurgent mantle once he entered the general election in 2016, and he’s maintained it ever since.

Today, Trump looks a lot more like Jeb Bush, who, when taking into account the super PAC supporting him, was the GOP fundraising leader in the 2016 presidential primary. Bush, like McCain and Romney, was an ardent Trump critic. Trump, in turn, loved to go after the former Florida governor.

Even in the polls, Trump is stronger than his rivals among the group that is most normally associated with the establishment: White voters with at least a college degree.

Trump garnered 41% of the vote among this group in a Monmouth University poll released earlier this month. DeSantis, his closest competitor, was at just 24% with these voters.

During a similar period, in the lead-up to the 2016 primary, a CNN/ORC poll found Trump with less than half that support among college educated voters (18%).

Trump’s advantage extends not just to those with a college degree but to those with a postgraduate degree too – the educational group he did worst with in 2016. A recent Pew Research Center poll found him up with these voters too.

The bottom line is that there really aren’t any real weaknesses in Trump’s support at this point. He was able to win in 2016 despite not having the support of the establishment or the most money in the race.

This time around, Trump has both and remains well-positioned to cruise in the 2024 Republican contest.

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