Trump is doggedly holding onto the support he garnered to become President. With each moral and political transgression, his support either remains the same or even increases. One recent set of data from the Voter Study Group showed something surprising: more than 80% of Trump’s votes came from those who voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney just four years before. That is to say, they were your ordinary and typical American Republicans: “tax-cut advocates, religious evangelicals and Catholics, gun rights supporters and business types eager for deregulation”. As such, as long as he gives each group at least something they really want, they’ll support him for everything. We live in a period where nuance has gone out of the window.
As Henry Olsen writes (in “What liberals (still) get wrong about Trump’s support”):
Evangelicals are a case in point. My work on Republican factions, contained in the book I co-authored with Professor Dante Scala, The Four Faces of the Republican Party, found that very conservative voters who highly value social issues comprise about 25% of the party. These voters today are very afraid that liberal and progressive judges will slowly circumscribe their ability to practice their religion in their daily lives. They tended not to support Trump during the primaries, instead backing the Texas senator Ted Cruz. Their support for Trump now is highly transactional: so long as he nominates the judges they think will protect their beliefs and way of life, they will overlook virtually anything else he says or does.
The recent nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the supreme court thus solidified their support, as social conservatives believe he is much likelier to back their views than the man he is replacing, Anthony Kennedy. They might be troubled by other things he says or does, but so long as he keeps his end of the bargain on their priority they will swallow hard and stick with their man.
I have talked about this before: the idea that the Presidential vote is really one about what sort of person or people you want making the decisions in the Supreme Court.
The American electorate are surprisingly fickle and forgiving; they will allow the many transgressions that Trump commits in favour of the fact that one or two of his decisions or ideals go their way. We, as liberals, often portray and label Trump’s support base as racist and bigoted. However, the Cato Institute recently carried out some research that split Trump’s supporters into five groups. Only one of those groups (American Preservationists) was deemed “to be generally hostile to racial and ethnic minorities per se” [Olsen’s words]. In this sense, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of Trump’s supporters.
Whilst on that research, from the libertarian institute, it looks to be wrong to tar all their supporters with one simplistic brush. I think we can safely say that, as mentioned before, they are very forgiving. Perhaps another way of putting this is hypocritical, as mentioned previously with regard to certain moral issues. It is a case of very selective cherry-picking of what Trump stands for and of what he does.
Another thing that is most probably at play is the notion that Trump’s supporters do understand the moral transgressions and do disapprove, and this might include some of the policy decisions that Trump makes, but that they simply can never bring themselves to vote Democrat. This is the nature of the polarised political landscape that we now live in. You are simply one team or the other. There is no in between. It’s rather like supporting a sports team. Take Manchester United and Manchester City in English Premiership football; whilst one team might have a bad manager and poor players at any one time, it’s not as if you stop following the team on account of a poor run of personnel. You will always support one team or the other, no matter the highs or lows. I think it is this kind of tribalism that now represents politics in the US, and to a growing degree, elsewhere, such as in the UK.
This, together with Clinton hatred, is a powerful force. As Olsen continues:
Animus towards Democrats and their nominee was a very strong predictor of Trump support even among those who also strongly disliked Trump.
My own work confirms this. The 2016 exit poll showed that Trump won because he decisively beat Clinton among the 18% of Americans who did not like either candidate. These voters tended to be suburban, college-educated, Republican-leaning men. These “reluctant Trump voters” were undecided until the very end of the race, but ultimately decided that the devil whose policies they liked was better than the devil whose policies they didn’t.
So the question is, where to from here? The problem lies in the polarisation. Given that the Democrats appear to move to the left on each issue that raises its ugly head, and seek to appease the louder more progressive voters, there is a potential issue in trying to win the middle ground. Bill Clinton’s success was in creating focus groups that looked at the swing voters and the issues that were important to them, and creating a manifesto that was tailored towards them. As search, the Democrat voters that would always vote Democrat voted Democrat, and the Republican voters who would always vote Republican voted Republican. Do the Democrats continue to shift towards the left (which in America isn’t really that far to the left!)? Or do they try and win that middle ground and regain voters who may not have much love for Trump?
Democrats have done nothing since Trump’s election to reduce these feelings. On issue after issue the Democratic party has moved to the left, catering to a progressive base outraged at Trump’s election and seething at how the Democratic establishment foisted a fatally flawed candidate upon them. The latest progressive cause célèbre is for eliminating America’s border enforcement agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice). One can be outraged at how Trump is enforcing America’s immigration laws without thinking that eliminating all border enforcement is a good idea. An idea like this keeps Republicans united in their support for Trump as it clearly shows how unacceptable the alternative is.
With those all-important midterms coming up, there is a real opportunity to be seized for the Democrats. With this polarisation in mind, the Democrats could possibly seize on enthusiasm for voting for getting rid of Trump to ensure a really high voter turnout and hope that they succeed in terms of voter turnout where the Republicans might not, as the incumbents, so much. There is certainly a massive anti-Trump movement, and the Democrats can, of course, capitalise upon this. But is this anti-Trump movement merely the Democrats as was, now emboldened and unified against Trump?
That said, it is important to remember that those diehard trump fanatics, who are no small segment of the electorate, will remain as fervent as ever. This is helped in no small measure by the way the media and social media react to Trump. As hilarious and entertaining and informative as I find people like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers and Saturday Night Live, they definitely serve to galvanise trumps supporters against any Trump Democrat movement. The mainstream media is just so against them!
Once you dismiss the media for blowing minor issues out of proportion, the major issues get a free pass.
Indeed, as Olsen concludes::
None of this is to say that Trump’s support is fixed. His job approval went as low as 37% in 2017 over his failures to repeal Obamacare or address trade imbalances. Trump’s current 43% approval rating rests upon a strong economy and continued work for his backers’ priorities. Should the economy slow down or he goes back on something his fans value, his support could easily drop. But it is very unlikely to drop much based on the sort of revelations liberals and progressives often revel in.
For better or for worse, much of what Trump says and does is already baked into the cake. And that might not only keep him politically alive, it might serve to re-elect him against a strong progressive candidate two years hence.
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