John Bolton, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser turned outspoken critic, has commissioned a new poll to illustrate that the former president’s grip on the Republican Party is loosening.
The poll, released on Tuesday morning, showed Trump’s “very favorable” numbers among Republican voters dropped 19 points since a separate poll from a different pollster taken in October 2020. It also showed that 56 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters would support a candidate other than Trump in the 2024 primary.
Bolton said his motivation for conducting the survey was to show that the Republican Party, contrary to what “the commentariat and among some politicians” say, had “not become a cult of personality.”
“There didn’t appear to be the recognition that things changed on Jan. 20, that Trump had gone from sitting in the most powerful office in the world to sitting by the swimming pool at Mar-a-Lago and that that’s going to have an effect over time as it is for any president who leaves office,” Bolton said.
He predicted that Trump would not run for president in 2024.
“I think he’ll talk about it incessantly until then for the attention that it gets, but I think most of the candidates are preparing for a race in which Trump doesn’t participate and protecting against that contingency,” he said.
A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately return a request for comment.
As with much polling data, there was nuance to Bolton’s numbers. While Trump’s “very favorable” rating plummeted with Republicans compared to the October 2020 New York Times/Siena College Research Institute poll, his “somewhat favorable” rating went up by 12 points. Combined, his total favorable rating dipped from 92 percent to 85 percent.
And while a majority of voters may support a candidate other than Trump in the 2024 primary, 44 percent said they would back the former president — a sizable haul of the electorate that would put him in prime position in a multiple-candidate contest. In fact, the poll tested a primary field featuring Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Govs. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), former vice president Mike Pence, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, alongside Trump. While Trump got 44 percent of the vote, the next closest were DeSantis and Haley, each of whom got 9 percent.
In a statement releasing the poll findings, which were commissioned by his Super PAC, Bolton said the goal was to gain a “better understanding” of “attitudes about a variety of factors affecting the Republican Party and its future.” The subtext, however, appeared to be an effort to lay the predicate for GOP candidates breaking with Trump. The poll tested how Republican voters would respond to a Trump endorsement during a primary campaign. And it found that Republicans who are “very favorable” to Trump would vote against a candidate Trump opposes in a primary by 22 points, but that Republicans “somewhat favorable” to Trump would vote against the candidate by just 3 points.”
“I think there’s a myth and reality at work here,” Bolton said on a call revealing the polling data. “The myth is, if Trump is for you, you’re in great shape. And If he’s against you, you’re toast. We tested the question of how it affects primary voters if Trump opposes a candidate and it shows something of a reality very different from the myth. I don’t purport to say that’s a clear answer but it’s a pretty wide diversion from the conventional wisdom in the commentariat.”
Bolton’s animus to Trump, and vice versa, is well known by now. The two had an acrimonious split on a number of issues — from North Korea to a potential peace deal with the Taliban — that resulted in Bolton either quitting or being fired, depending on whose account one believes. Since then, the former national security adviser has written a book sharply criticizing his former boss as being wildly under-prepared for the job and a chaotic presence in the nation’s highest office. Trump has responded by calling Bolton a dolt whose thirst for military confrontation overwhelmed all other strategic considerations.
While Bolton predicted that Trump would not run for president in 2024, he said that he would not either.
“My hope,” he said, “is that [Trump] is upset with this poll and he and his pollsters go into the field and whatever they find they release with the same kind of transparency we have.”