A Simple Explanation for GOP Behavior vis-a-vis Trump

80% of GOP voters approve of Trump. This explains GOP behavior in large measure.


Trump And GOP ElephantAs I noted in the comments of Doug Mataconis’ post, Republicans Have Lost The Gamble They Took On Donald Trump, ( as well as on FB) I take issue with the notion that GOP officeholders were “gambling” on Trump.  I think that GOP behavior has been as expected–they accepted the political reality of the situation.  There are several reasons for this, but one key reason is straight-forward and empirically verifiable:  GOP voters support Trump.

Hence, whenever we seek to understand why elected officials in the GOP continue to tolerate, if not support, Donald Trump, note that the vast majority of GOP voters approve of the President. These are the voters who vote in GOP primaries.  That is a a key variable when it comes to explaining the behavior of GOP officeholders.

Gallup reports that as of last week, 80% of Republicans approve of the job the president is doing.  That number has ranged between 89% at inauguration to a low of 78% in late August.

For comparison in terms of approval their own co-partisans: Obama averaged 83%, G.W. Bush 84%, Clinton 82%, G.H.W. Bush 82%, Reagan 83%. All numbers via Gallup (going back to Eisenhower).

Trump is not going to be in trouble with GOP officeholders as long as he is not in trouble with GOP voters.  This is one key reason why I noted that the “independent” hypothesis is nonsense.  It is also why I find the “gamble” notion problematic.  It is not a “gamble” to support your party’s nominee, it is a acquiescence to political reality.  Republican leaders in the congress have to take whatever Trump dished out because there is currently no advantage in rebelling from a political POV.  A GOP civil war will not help the party in 2018.  This is key.

I would further note:  there is nothing about the Trump presidency that preclude the GOP in congress from passing whatever they wish to pass.  Trump will almost certainly sign anything they put before him as long as he can call it a win.  Indeed, he even signed the Russia sanctions bill, even though that was a personal loss.

The GOP has managed to get Gorsuch on the bench and will get other judges to their liking confirmed.  Such reasons all explain, in addition to others, why the GOP leadership has at least tepidly supported Trump.



FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kylopod says:

    I was recently examining Gallup’s page on the approval ratings of past presidents compared to the current one. The only modern president with first-year approval ratings comparable to Trump’s is Bill Clinton, yet his intra-party ratings that year were a lot worse than Trump’s: by June 1993 they were at 63%.

    A 79% approval rating within one’s own party isn’t great for a first-year president–it took Dubya six years before his intra-party ratings sank that low. But it’s insanely high for a president as unpopular with the general public as Trump is. There is a great discrepancy between how Trump is viewed by the public as a whole and how he is viewed within his own party, and it’s to a degree that I think deserves more commentary.

  2. @Kylopod:

    A 79% approval rating within one’s own party isn’t great

    It is insufficiently deviant from historical averages to cause GOP partisans to change their behavior.

  3. Argon says:

    Heck, even Nixon’s approval rating among GOP voters didn’t tank until the very end…

  4. Kylopod says:

    @Argon: Indeed, Nixon’s final Gallup intra-party ratings before resignation was 50%. Yes, at the height of Watergate, fully half of all Republicans approved of the job Nixon was doing. What’s especially striking is that it was a far less partisan era than today.

  5. SenyorDave says:

    The good Republicans – the good Germans? BTW, when you have the POTUS making excuses for nazis and klansmen, Godwin’s Law goes out the window.

  6. CSK says:

    Of what do the 79% approve? That mystifies me. Is it simply the fact that he’s a consummate assh*le?

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It is not a “gamble” to support your party’s nominee, it is a acquiescence to political reality.

    Ever so true. It is an acquiescence to the *racist* base that has taken over their party. The gamble the GOP made was with the Southern Strategy. They thought they could control the racists who deserted the DEM party in the wake of civil rights legislation. They have a tiger by the tail and they don’t dare let go. If they do, it will turn and eat them.

    **note: not every trump voter is racist, but they are OK with a racist in the white house, and those who are neither are too stupid to vote.

  8. Mikey says:


    BTW, when you have the POTUS making excuses for nazis and klansmen, Godwin’s Law goes out the window.

    As Godwin himself said:

    By all means, compare these shitheads to Nazis. Again and again. I’m with you.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: So what do we have the Republican Party devolving into? The “taxes cuts for the rich, safety nets for the poor” crowd has the ca$h but are discovering there’s limits to the propaganda you can buy. The “bomb bomb bomb” crowd is running into the face that the lumpenproletariat might like to beat its chest about “America First!” but isn’t all that interested in actually going out and fighting those exact same wars, and the social conservatives are dwindling by the day into a handful of interest groups all more interested in forming their own visions of Jesus America, fighting each other over what comprises “Anti-ConstiTOOSHUNAL” and having hysterical fits over gays and transgenders. Then you’ve got the Tea Partiers, who are nothing more than a collection of useful idiots manipulated by the cut-taxes crowd, and the alt-right, who are simply pissed at anyone who isn’t a white male. (The identity politics crowd on the right).

    And then there’s Trump, who will provide promises to everyone out there, provided he can get the roar of the crowd and all the TV cameras out there focused on them. He’d be dangerous if he in fact HAD an actual vision, but the man has the attention span of a ADHD toddler.

    Welcome to the Monkey House. Indeed.