Partisans Being Partisan
Why we are where we are (at least in part).
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.