John R. Bolton is out to prove former President Donald Trump’s base of support in the Republican Party is shrinking — putting him at odds with a number of GOP lawmakers who have pledged fealty to the 45th president and, in some cases, parroted his stolen election claims.
Mr. Bolton, who served as national security adviser under Mr. Trump, says that the former president’s influence over the party is overblown and that polls he has commissioned through his John Bolton Super PAC show Mr. Trump’s standing in the eyes of GOP voters has taken a hit since he lost the 2020 election.
The latest survey, released Monday, shows a slim majority of GOP primary voters agree that “a new Republican candidate — a fresh face — would be a stronger candidate to defeat Joe Biden in 2024.”
The survey also found that by a 42%-23% margin GOP voters agreed with former Vice President Mike Pence that he did not have the constitutional authority to grant Mr. Trump’s wish that he block certification of the election results.
“The general question we are testing, the general hypothesis, is that the impression in the media is that Trump’s support within the Republican Party is like this monolithic block of granite, it is unshakable and it dominates the party, and that is the way it is going to be,” Mr. Bolton told The Washington Times on Monday. “What the polls have shown is that Trump support has declined within the party and generally since the November election.”
Mr. Bolton said he would love to know whether some of the possible 2024 GOP presidential contenders side with Mr. Pence or Mr. Trump when it comes to certifying the 2020 election results.
Asked in the poll if they agree that a “fresh face” would be a stronger candidate against Mr. Biden in 2024, 52% of Republicans agreed and 33% disagreed.
Nearly half of Republicans said Mr. Trump’s endorsement in a primary race would not influence their vote, and a third said he was responsible for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Still, the poll found 76% of Republicans said they would vote for Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden if an election were held today and have a favorable opinion of the former president.
Mr. Trump also was the top choice among Republicans, 45%, in a hypothetical GOP presidential primary that showed his closest rivals to be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 13%, and Mr. Pence, 6%.
The poll showed nearly 60% of Republicans said Mr. Trump bears “no responsibility” for the Jan. 6 riot and 53% rated the statement “Joe Biden won the election and is truly president” as “untrue.”
Among all voters, 62% said Mr. Trump shares responsibility for the Capitol riot and 68% said Mr. Trump should have taken stronger steps to stop the rioters.
“Whatever support Trump has inside the party is almost a kiss of death among independents,” Mr. Bolton said.
Mr. Bolton has been a fixture in the conservative movement for decades, having developed a reputation as a foreign policy hawk along the way.
The 72-year-old served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush before serving as national security adviser in the Trump administration from 2018 to 2019.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolton had a stormy relationship in the White House — so much so that they didn’t agree on whether Mr. Bolton resigned or was fired from his post.
Since then Mr. Trump and his allies have cast Mr. Bolton as a disgruntled former employee looking for payback.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment.
On Monday, Mr. Bolton argued that Mr. Trump’s waning support is in a lot of ways a natural phenomenon of ex-presidents, who no longer have the clout of the White House.
He said the indictments against the Trump organization also hurt his image.
“Think of Trump as a statue and it is a statue covered with cracks,” said Carter Wrenn, the pollster and longtime GOP strategist. “Some of the cracks are large. Some of them are small.”
“There is not much he can do to reverse the cracks, and the question is how quickly they grow deeper and bigger,” he said.
The poll comes days after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy traveled to New Jersey to meet with Mr. Trump amid speculation over how the California Republican’s plans to handle the special House committee that will investigate the Jan. 6 attack.
Republicans in races across the country also are running under the Trump banner, hoping to secure his backing and win over his diehard supporters.
Mr. Bolton said he suspects some Republicans are embracing Mr. Trump because they want to avoid his wrath.
“I think there is a fear and intimidation factor,” he said. “I think some people are concerned about getting on his wrong side.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has insisted repeatedly since leaving office that the 2020 election was stolen and has pressured GOP leaders in states he lost to Mr. Biden to “audit” the results, celebrating the ongoing probe in Arizona.
He has criticized Republicans who have refused to support the efforts.
Mr. Bolton said he doesn’t believe Mr. Trump will seek the presidency in 2024 because he doesn’t want to risk losing.
However, he said he expects Mr. Trump to tease running to make sure he stays in the spotlight and boost his perceived kingmaker status.
“I think it could be a suicide pact to renominate Trump, and if your objective is to prevent the progressive wing of the Democratic Party from doing what they want to do, then it is not a good idea to nominate candidates that can’t get elected,” Mr. Bolton said.