Partisans Being Partisan

Why we are where we are (at least in part).

Source: The White House

Via WaPo: After two Trump wins, congressional Republicans again fall in line.

Last spring, a veteran of Republican Senate leadership said that former president Donald Trump’s time had “passed by” and the GOP needed to “come up with an alternative.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) also questioned Trump’s ability to win a general election, arguing that the former president didn’t understand “that when you run in a general election, you have to appeal to voters beyond your base.”

Less than a year later, Cornyn joined a number of remaining GOP holdouts in endorsing and rallying around Trump after his decisive victories in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

“I have seen enough,” Cornyn said in a statement Tuesday after it became clear Trump would win his second Republican nomination contest in two weeks. “To beat Biden, Republicans need to unite around a single candidate, and it’s clear that President Trump is Republican voters’ choice. I will be continuing to work to elect a Republican Senate majority and to elect President Trump in 2024.”

This is normal. The abnormal part is Trump himself, and while many Americans find it incomprehensible, it is actually quite possible to understand (especially given the discussion in my previous post on Affective Partisanship).

The over-arching rank-ordered preference for Republican politicians (and voters) is straightforward: they want a Republican to beat a Democrat.

Ergo, most of them will end up voting for whomever the party nominates over whomever the other party nominates.

Add to the mix that people like Cornyn know that if they buck their party they end up like Liz Cheney. And yes, Liz Cheney is hailed as someone with heroic courage, but by Democrats, which has proven to be a bit of a detriment to her career.

If he wished to maintain his political career (and he clearly does), then what option does he have? And, by extension, what signal is he sending to voters in his state about the acceptability of the candidate in question? The process is self-reinforcing.

Beyond the obvious self-interest, the reality also remains that one, his identity is Republican, and, two his policy preferences lie with the GOP. Defection to the Democrats, again as per the previous post, is a non-starter. And abstaining from politics isn’t really an option for him if he wishes to remain active in politics.

Getting in line and rationalizing is, therefore, his best option. Replicate that over and over, and even GOPers who don’t like Trump (and there are a number that fall in that camp) will nonetheless support him.

Note: I am not defending anybody. I am just noting how reality works, both in terms of individual choices and mass behavior.

This is not the only reason we end up with a situation like Trump, but it is a substantial contributor.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, 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. Scott F. says:

    This is normal. The abnormal part is Trump himself, and while many Americans find it incomprehensible, it is actually quite possible to understand.

    To paraphrase Kathy’s comment on Kingdaddy’s recent neutrality in journalism post, “It’s one thing when partisanship is used as an explanation. It’s a very different thing when it’s brought up as absolution.” Begging your pardon, I am not suggesting you are absolving anything, but I believe our situation calls for some judgement regarding the rationalizations being made now by the GOP.

    For me, the nature and scale of the abnormality of Trump is what makes the normality of Republicans falling in line to be itself abnormal. There has to be a line that cannot be crossed while claiming both reason and integrity. Now while I contend that Liz Cheney is admired for her stance against Trumpism by more than just Democrats, it is undoubtedly true that the political consequences she has faced are a demonstration of the costs that come from taking a stand on principle. But the entire history of heroic stands illustrates that principle over power or profit requires sacrifices.

    In this political moment of Abnormal Trump, there is either heroism or cowardice. That the cowardice is reasonable and predictable, does not make it any less cowardly.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Excellent argument against identity politics. Your loyalty, as a human being with some dignity, should be to these things called, principles. But, most people are weak, cowardly and venal, easily led by the loudest voice and the most extreme positions, motivated by belonging and personal advancement. Subordinating your principles to identity politics is contemptible, and, according to some old Jew, pointless in the end: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

    Right, White evangelicals? Remember when you used to prattle on endlessly about ‘character,’ right up until some game show host said, ‘grab ’em by the pussy,’ and you suddenly didn’t even remember the concept of character?

    Believe in ideals: truth, justice, the rule of law, not skin color or gender or tribe. If you can’t manage that you are unfit to hold office. And yes, I do mean people on the Left as well. Ideals unite and strengthen; identity divides and weakens.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    This really separates the patriots from the “patriots”. Is a military guy a defender of American values or just someone who likes to dress up and play soldier? Is a judge someone who upholds the Constitution or just someone who expects deference to their ridiculous robes while putting their finger on the scales? And of course “God and Country” absolutely cannot mean Trump.

  4. steve says:

    Can understand that in the general election a Republican would vote for Trump. What’s hard to understand is voting for him in a primary when you have other choices. They were also Republicans. Of course if it’s a cult of personality it doesnt matter what policies Trump espouses or how bad his behavior, they will just support him.


  5. Mister Bluster says:

    @steve: What’s hard to understand is voting for him in a primary when you have other choices.

    These Republican primary voters are afraid that Trump will find out who they voted for and that Trump will send crazed weasels after them.

  6. Mimai says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    A lot of people mistake rules for principles. This is especially so for rules that (feel like they) are intrinsically generated.

    A Kevin Kelly quote is adjacent to this issue: “Don’t define yourself by your opinions, because then you can’t change your mind. Define yourself by your values.”

    Which then reminds me of this other Kelly gem: “You are only as young as the last time you changed your mind.” I like this one quite a lot.