What is it that Republican voters want? I know they’d like to deny Joe Biden a second term as president. There’s nothing unusual about that. Political parties exist to win elections. But it seems to me that the Republican base wants Donald Trump as their champion irrespective of his chances of winning. And I really wonder about why that is.

Over the weekend, Robert Costa interviewed Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy predicted that Trump will win the Republican nomination and beat Biden. He also said he would support Trump and possibly serve in his cabinet. But the most interesting exchange had to do with Trump’s very transparent call for “retribution” on his political enemies.

Costa asked, “You praise Trump’s policies. You say he’s a good guy. But many Americans, they look at his language, they listen to his speeches, and they hear an authoritarian. Some say even a fascist on the horizon in this country. What do you say to those people who have those real concerns?”

McCarthy replied, “Look, I don’t see that, and this is what I tell President Trump, too. What President Trump needs to do in this campaign, it needs to be about rebuilding, restoring, renewing America. It can’t be about revenge.”

“He’s talking about retribution, day in, day out.”

“He needs to stop that,” McCarthy responded. “He needs to stop that.”

“You think he’s going to listen to you saying, ‘Stop that. Stop that’? He hasn’t listened to anybody before.”

“That’s not true,” said McCarthy. “He will adapt when he gets all the facts.”

“He’s not backing away from his calls for retribution,” said Costa.

“Yeah, but remember, you have a check and balance system. And I think, at the end of the day–”

Costa asked, “Where’s the check and balance on him in the Republican Party?”

“America doesn’t want to see the idea of retribution,” said McCarthy. “If it’s rebuild, restore and renew, then I think you’ll see that. And look – that’s him. But I’m not gonna change who I am. And I’m not gonna stop giving him the advice.

Maybe America doesn’t want to see “the idea of retribution,” but I suspect that Republican voters do. How else do we explain that five weeks before the first in the nation Iowa caucuses, Trump is the first choice of 51 percent of likely caucusgoers? He has a 32 point lead over his nearest competitor, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. And, while there are still a healthy number of undecided voters, most of those are people who aren’t choosing Trump right now. Among Trump supports, seven in ten say their mind cannot be changed. And if you want to be really disturbed, look at this:

Trump gets first-choice support from majorities of evangelical Christians (51% of them backed him), self-identified Republicans (59%), first-time caucusgoers (63%) and white men without college degrees (66%).

These aren’t all preexisting Republican voters. Trump is absolutely dominating with 63 percent support from first-time caucusgoers. He’s still bringing new people into the process.

I’ve mentioned before that the best way to dent Trump’s support is to change the perception of his electability, but that’s very hard to do when the polls don’t back it up, at all. On Monday, CNN released data showing Trump beating Biden in Georgia and thumping him in Michigan. The Wall Street Journal finds Biden at the weakest point in his presidency, trailing Trump nationally 47-43 percent in a two-way race and faring even worse in multi-candidate scenarios.

I’m not going to deny that the world is a mess right now, but it’s mystifying why Biden is so unpopular. The economy isn’t working for everybody, I know, but some of the metrics are really, really strong.

U.S. employers added a healthy 199,000 jobs [in November]  and the unemployment rate fell, fresh signs that the economy could achieve an elusive “soft landing,” in which inflation would return to the Federal Reserve’s 2% target without causing a steep recession.

Friday’s report from the Labor Department showed that the unemployment rate dropped from 3.9% to 3.7%, not far above a five-decade low of 3.4% in April. The jobless rate has now remained below 4% for nearly two years, the longest such streak since the late 1960s.

Biden is solving inflation, defying expectations in avoiding a recession, and has done a fantastic job of creating jobs. Considering other factors, like housing costs and a monopolized economy, I don’t expect Biden to be riding a wave of popularity based on the economy, but he’s should be getting credit for his performance in office, and he most definitely is not.

Every time we see a new poll confirming that Biden is unpopular, it boosts Trump. It’s why a guy like Aaron Mann, 30, of Fort Madison, Iowa, says he’s caucusing for Trump: “I think a ham sandwich could probably win a general election against Joe Biden.” The NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll shows 73 percent of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers think Trump can beat Biden despite his overwhelming legal vulnerabilities.

There have been indications in numerous polls that Trump’s support would drop considerably if he were actually convicted of a felony, and I believe that is probably true. But that seems like voters dropping him more in sorrow than in anger. In other words, they want Trump but can be persuaded that he is not in fact electable. This seems especially true among Republicans who just seem to have a strong affinity for this guy who is such an obviously terrible person.

It’s depressing that Republicans like Trump so much, but I think they like him precisely because he’s terrible, and promises to do terrible things. That doesn’t explain why non-Republicans are still open to him despite the January 6 insurrection, and despite his handling of the pandemic, and despite all that has been revealed and all his legal problems.

In other words, I know that Republicans want to see “the idea of retribution,” but I’m beginning to suspect that that is also true for the majority of Americans. The mood is just sour beyond imagination.

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