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If there was any doubt about who owns today’s Republican Party, new polling confirms the Grand Old Party is firmly in the hands of Donald Trump.

When Trump shoved aside the Republican establishment in 2016 and made a direct pitch to the GOP base, it wasn’t clear if his success was an aberration attributable to his extraordinary uniqueness or if it marked a hostile takeover of the party from its traditional masters.

There’s clarity now.

A poll of Michigan Republican voters finds a solid majority of party regulars say their loyalties rest with Trump and not with the party itself or its expressed values.

When asked whether they considered themselves to be more a supporter of Trump or of the party, 50.3 percent of state Republicans said the president, while just 39 percent picked the party.

The margin is even larger among those who identify as conservatives. They chose the president over party 55.4 percent to 28.9 percent, signaling that for Republicans, conservatism is now defined by Trump, not Hayek, Kirk or Buckley.

The survey is from the Glengariff Group for the Detroit Regional Chamber in advance of its annual Mackinac Policy Conference later this month. Glengariff also polls for The Detroit News.

The results should help answer some questions for those baffled that Republican candidates are standing by the president, despite his overall low approval ratings and persistent erratic behavior.

Simple answer: Republicans can’t win a GOP primary without him.

Democrats may hate Trump and independents may be skeptical, but Republicans remain wild about the president. There’s no evidence of buyer’s remorse among those who carried him into office. Trump’s job approval rating ranges from 82 to 98 percent among the varying GOP groups, and his favorability numbers are also strong.

The president has discovered the secret formula for courting and keeping the hearts of today’s Republicans: Get on Fox News and stay there, and let the rest of the media pound sand.

Voters who say they get their news primarily from Fox chose Trump over party by a 66.4 percent-21.6 percent margin. Those whose main news sources are local TV, the networks and newspapers picked the party over Trump by a nearly two-to-one margin.

Since a majority of GOP voters get their news from Fox, and since Fox is the most-watched cable news network, having it as an ally is invaluable. Most of the punditry class won’t lower themselves to watch Fox, which explains why they’re perpetually puzzled by the intensity and breadth of the Trump base.

Republican candidates will be asked repeatedly during this election cycle whether they stand with Trump. They’ll be asked to denounce every offensive tweet from the president. And they’ll face demands to defend each one of his policies.

And they will. Back in the winter, when he was weighing a run for the U.S. Senate, Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, told me he thought it would be impossible to get through a GOP primary if Trump was against him. Upton, who didn’t back Trump in 2016, chose not to take the risk.

So don’t expect Republican candidates to speak ill of Trump on the campaign trail. It’s his party, and bashing him won’t score them an invitation.

nfinley@detroitnews.com

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.

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