The G.O.P. and Public Opinion

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ImageA digital billboard of Donald Trump outside the Capitol last week.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Purely as a matter of political self-interest, congressional Republicans had some good reasons to abandon Donald Trump as the de facto leader of their party.

Trump is unpopular with most Americans, and he has been for his entire political career. He was able to win the presidency in 2016 only with help from some unusual factors — including an unpopular opponent, intervention from both Russia and the F.B.I. director and razor-thin wins in three swing states.

Today, Trump is a defeated one-term president who never cracked 47 percent of the vote, and political parties are usually happy to move on from presidents who lose re-election.

That would have been true even before Trump’s reaction to his defeat. He became the first president in U.S. history to try to overturn an election result, and he incited a crowd of supporters that violently attacked Congress while it was meeting to certify the results. (Here’s the latest about what he knew during the riot.) On the Senate floor this weekend, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the attack and accused him of “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

Partly because of the riot, Trump left office with just a 39 percent approval rating, according to FiveThirtyEight. Multiple recent polls showed that a majority of Americans thought that the Senate should convict him and disqualify him from holding future office.

So why didn’t Senate Republicans do so?

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Credit…Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

There are two important parts to the answer.

The more obvious one is the short-term political danger for individual Republicans. Roughly 70 percent of Republican voters continue to support Trump strongly, polls suggest. A similar share say they would be less likely to vote for a Republican senator who voted to convict Trump, according to Li Zhou of Vox.

For Republican politicians, turning on Trump still brings a significant risk of being a career-ending move, as it was for Jeff Flake, the former Arizona senator, and Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general. Of the seven Republican senators who voted for conviction, only one — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — faces re-election next year, Burgess Everett of Politico noted. And the seven are already facing blowback in their home states.

The second part of the answer is more subtle but no less important. Today’s Republican Party is less concerned with national public opinion than it used to be — or than today’s Democratic Party is.

The Republican Party of the past won elections by persuading most Americans that it would do a better job than Democrats of running the country. Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower each won at least 57 percent of the vote in their re-election campaigns. George W. Bush won 51 percent, largely by appealing to swing voters on national security, education, immigration and other issues. A party focused on rebuilding a national majority probably could not stay tethered to Trump.

But the modern Republican Party has found ways other than majority support to achieve its goals.

It benefits from a large built-in advantage in the Senate, which gives more power to rural and heavily white states. The filibuster also helps Republicans more than it does Democrats. In the House and state legislatures, both parties have gerrymandered, but Republicans have done more of it. In the courts, Republicans have been more aggressive about putting judges on the bench and blocking Democratic presidents from doing so. In the Electoral College, Democrats currently waste more votes than Republicans by running up large state-level victories.

All of this helps explain Trump’s second acquittal. The Republican Party is in the midst of the worst run that any party has endured — across American history — in the popular vote of presidential elections, having lost seven of the past eight. Yet the party has had a pretty good few decades, policy-wise. It has figured out how to succeed with minority support.

Republican-appointed justices dominate the Supreme Court. Republicans are optimistic they can retake control of both the House and the Senate next year (even if they win fewer votes nationwide). Taxes on the wealthy are near their lowest level in a century. Democrats have failed to enact many of their biggest priorities — on climate change, Medicare, the minimum wage, preschool, gun control, immigration and more.

Yes, Trump’s acquittal bucks public opinion. But it still might not cost the Republicans political power.

More on impeachment:

  • McConnell’s actions — voting for acquittal while upbraiding Trump — was an attempt “to both satisfy Trump supporters and appeal to Republicans who are repulsed by Trump,” Carl Hulse, The Times’s chief Washington correspondent, says.

  • President Biden wanted Trump to be convicted, but the quick trial at least allows Biden to get moving on his agenda, starting with a virus-relief bill.

  • At least six people who worked as security guards for Roger Stone, a Trump ally, stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, a Times investigation found.

  • The acquittal revived speculation about the electoral prospects of Trump’s daughter-in-law.

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Credit…The New York Times
  • Myanmar’s military sent soldiers into the streets to shut down anti-coup protests and surround the houses of government workers who had joined the demonstrations.

  • A winter storm is bringing heavy snow, perilous ice and dangerously low temperatures to much of the U.S.

  • The pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of young people. “The pandemic feels like a big stop in our lives,” a 22-year-old student said.

  • An Ebola outbreak in Guinea has killed at least three people. In 2014, the country was the starting point for an epidemic of the disease that left more than 11,000 dead in 10 countries.

  • “Jeopardy!” fans mourned the death of Brayden Smith, a five-time champion who was 24.

  • Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, are expecting their second child.

A Morning Read: What would a $15 minimum wage mean for both workers and business owners? Look to Fresno, Calif., for answers.

From Opinion: The most loved small businesses do more than sell products. Here are four grateful customers, in their own words.

Lives Lived: Reggie Jones began his lifeguard career at Jones Beach on Long Island in 1944. He stuck with the job for the next 64 summers, saving swimmers well into his 70s. Jones died at 93.

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Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

Less than two years ago, Rihanna, one of the world’s biggest stars, and LVMH, one of the world’s biggest luxury groups, announced a collaboration: Fenty fashion house. The early reception was mostly positive. Fenty was “glamorous but not pretentious,” as Emilia Petrarca wrote in the Cut.

Yet Fenty went on hiatus last week. What caused the failure?

The pandemic played a role. Building a new brand takes time, and the shutdown of activity has hurt much of the fashion industry. But companies and brands that collapse during an economic downturn usually had pre-existing problems, and Fenty fits that pattern.

For one, it was much more expensive than other products from Rihanna’s empire, which includes Fenty Beauty, a successful makeup line, and Savage x Fenty, a lingerie brand. A Fenty hoodie, for example, cost $300, and a turtleneck minidress cost $740. “Fashion lines centered on a celebrity tend to perform better at accessible prices in the mass market,” as Marc Bain wrote in Quartz.

The brand also tended to use simpler construction and fabrics to keep prices lower, The Business of Fashion reports, resulting in products that “were cheaper than Dior, but hardly as desirable.” Most people who buy luxury clothing see it as an investment, Elizabeth Paton, who covers fashion for The Times, told us. “Why buy Fenty if they can buy a Vuitton handbag instead that won’t lose its value?”

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Credit…Andrew Purcell for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

Start the week with lablabi, a Tunisian chickpea soup. (Here are more recipes for comforting vegetarian soups.)

The historical drama “Judas and the Black Messiah” tells the story of a Black Panther leader and the F.B.I. informant who betrayed him. Read The Times’s review — and an interview with the director, Shaka King.

Hear new tracks by Dua Lipa, Death From Above 1979 and more.

“Saturday Night Live” took on Trump’s acquittal, and Regina King hosted.

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The pangram from Friday’s Spelling Bee was halogen. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Feel sore (four letters).

If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.


Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

Reader feedback: Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former head of the C.D.C., wrote to say he agreed with Friday’s newsletter on the dangers of Covid absolutism — but disagreed that the elimination of trans fat was another example of problematic absolutism. “Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills and we need to be clear about that with the public,” he wrote. You can read more from Resolve to Save Lives.

P.S. On this day in 1942, The Times published its first crossword puzzle. You can try the puzzle here. A sample clue: “G-man Hoover’s middle name.”

You can see today’s print front page here.

There’s no new episode of “The Daily” today. On “Sway,” Kara Swisher talks to Bill Gates about climate change.

Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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