If the 2024 Republican presidential primary were held today, Donald Trump would be the clear favorite to win big. That was the message from a Politico-Morning Consult poll released on Tuesday, three days after Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial, on a charge of inciting the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January.
Among Republican voters, 59% said they wanted Trump to play a prominent role in their party, up a whopping 18 points from the last such poll, taken in the aftermath of the Capitol riot. A slightly lower number, 54%, said they would back Trump in the primary.
Tens of thousands of Republicans left the party after the Capitol insurrection, and a majority of Americans have told other pollsters they would like to see Trump banished from politics.
Though the 45th president will be 78 by election day 2024, he will be able to run again if he chooses, having escaped being barred from office after a 57-43 Senate vote to convict – with seven Republican defections but 10 votes short of the majority needed.
Mike Pence’s life was threatened by Trump supporters at the Capitol, as the vice-president presided over the ratification of electoral college results confirming Trump’s defeat by Joe Biden. He placed second in the Politico-Morning Consult poll, with 12%.
Name recognition is a powerful force so far out from the contest concerned. Donald Trump Jr shared third place, with 6%, with Nikki Haley. The former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador has tried to distance herself from Trump since the Capitol riot.
“We need to acknowledge he let us down,” Haley told Politico shortly after the attack. “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”
She also said Trump was “not going to run for federal office again”. Trump has not committed either way. After his acquittal, he told supporters: “Soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant and limitless American future.”
In a message seen by the Guardian on Tuesday, one former Trump White House insider said a run was “gonna happen … or he will be drafted”.
Mitt Romney, a figure from the Republican past as the 2012 nominee but now a Utah senator who has twice voted to convict Trump on impeachment charges, scored 4% in the new poll. Ted Cruz of Texas, one of the senators who backed Trump’s attempt to overturn his election defeat, scored 3%. Josh Hawley of Missouri, the other prominent Republican in objections to election results, was in a pack of names lower even than that.
The battle for the soul of the party is on. On Monday, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell followed an editorial in the Wall Street Journal which said Trump would not win another national election with a column of his own.
McConnell restated his argument, made in a Senate speech in which he otherwise excoriated Trump, that Trump’s acquittal was a matter of constitutional law. Scholars, and the Senate twice, have rejected the argument that Trump could not be tried because he had left office.
McConnell has also made clear that he will oppose pro-Trump candidates seeking Republican nominations in the 2022 midterms, if he thinks they would damage chances of beating a Democrat.