Donald Trump, impeached twice and soon to be gone from the White House, will likely always have his corps of MAGA hat-wearing fans who believe he can do no wrong, that he is the be-all and end-all of their world. But there are signs that Trump's grip on Republican voters who are less fanatical in their devotion to him is starting to slip.
The same goes for Republican-leaning Independents who jumped on board with Trump in 2016 and have stuck with him ever since.
And that could be good news for some Ohio and Kentucky GOP elected officials.
Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, for one.
McConnell is going to be forced to give up the best job he has ever had – Senate Majority Leader – because the GOP candidates lost both Georgia Senate races, handing control of the Senate to the Democrats, who will have 50 members and a vice president to break tie votes.
It is easy to understand why McConnell may well have had enough of Trump's reign over the GOP. Trump did McConnell no favors with his mixed messages to GOP voters in Georgia – on one hand, vote for Loeffler and Perdue; and, on the other hand, elections in Georgia are rigged. All Trump managed to do was supress GOP turnout and allow the two Democrats to slip into office.
It's understandable that McConnell would want his party restored to its pre-Trump condition.
There is unquestionably a change in tone from McConnell in recent days. When Trump was impeached the first time, McConnell said he would not be "an impartial juror" and supported Trump unequivocally. This time, he is saying that, in a Senate trial, he will make up his mind after hearing evidence that Trump incited the riot at the Capitol building.
Then there are two major figures in Ohio Republican politics – Gov. Mike DeWine and Sen. Rob Portman, both of whom face re-election campaigns. And both face the possibility of a pro-Trump opponent in the 2022 primary. Trump acolytes Jim Jordan and Warren Davidson, both GOP congressmen, are two possible challengers. So, too, is former congressman Jim Renacci.
So what is the evidence that Trump may be losing his grip on GOP voters since the rioting by a mob of Trump supporters at the Capitol Jan. 6?
First of all, there is a national Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week which showed that only 40% of Republican voters and GOP-leaning Independents say they would vote for Trump for president in 2024. That's down form 53% in November. There is little reason to believe that number will do anything but continue to fall.
Secondly, a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday shows that Trump's job approval rating has plummeted to 33% – down from 44% in December. His popularity is clearly tanking.
So is that enough to save Republican officials like Portman and DeWine from pro-Trump challengers?
David Niven, political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, isn't so sure.
"The shrinkage is not enough,'' Niven said. "Yes, the low-intensity Trump voter may have had enough, but that group who believes Trump is the center of the universe aren't going away. If I were DeWine and Portman, I wouldn't be too happy just yet."
"The question is, who could fire up a crowd?" Niven said. "The closest Mike DeWine can do is energize a crowd against him."
A primary challenger like Jordan, Niven said, has the "unqualified support of the MAGA crowd; and he doesn't give an inch and knows how to fire up a crowd."
Both Niven and I agree, though, that the best path forward for both DeWine and Portman if they face primary challenges is to simply stand up to it and do what they have always done – win elections.
"There's no reason to give in,'' Niven said. "That would be sort of like punting on third down."