Republicans Just Can’t Quit Donald Trump

Republicans are going to find it difficult to distance themselves from Donald Trump.

Trump And GOP Elephant

Donald Trump is consistently being caught in lies. His Administration deals in half-truths and outright fabrication with an ease unseen since the Nixon Administration. In terms of leadership, he’s proving himself to be an utter failure, and on the international stage, he’s proving to be an embarrassment given his recent meetings with leaders such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Andrea Merkel. His Administration is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for contact with Russian officials before the November election as part of a broader investigation of Russia’s efforts to influence that election. Along with all of this, his Job Approval and personal favorability numbers are headed in the wrong direction for a newly elected President. Despite all of this, Donald Trump continues to be defended by most Republicans.

Despite all of this, and rather than calling for immediate investigations and speaking out against him, most Republicans continue to defend the President of the United States. This is true both of rank and file Republicans and Republicans on Capitol Hill who remain reluctant to openly defy him in apparent fear of retaliation and instead continue to defend him from attack and, of course, criticism by pundits on the left and the right. When you think about it logically, it makes little sense. Trump has no history with the GOP before 2015 and in the past has identified himself as both a Democrat and an Independent. His position on policy issues are about as far removed from traditional conservatism as you can get in a number of respects, and his poll numbers clearly indicate that he is likely to become an albatross around the party’s neck in the future. And yet, as Paul Waldman notes, Republicans just can’t quit Donald Trump:

[E]very time Trump says something ridiculous, Republicans have to ask themselves: Do I help him on this or not? Some lies he tells are exaggerated versions of the lies they themselves tell, like the idea that three million people voted illegally. Republicans have all invested in the lie that says there is massive voter fraud; most just are careful enough not to put any numbers on it.

Other lies, though, are purely personal to Trump, like the idea that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history. They don’t justify a policy or serve some other collective purpose; they’re just about Trump feeling good. Defending him on that does nothing to help you with anyone but Trump himself.

Then there are questions that aren’t about policy, but threaten the administration to a profound enough degree that Republicans may feel they have no choice but to rally to Trump’s defense. The ever-widening Russia scandal falls into that category, which is why we’ve seen only a few Republicans admit that there’s something troubling about a hostile foreign dictator manipulating our election, or that a report that the president’s campaign manager had a $10 million per year contract with a Russian oligarch to advance Vladimir Putin’s political interests might raise some alarming questions.

If Republicans are tempted to distance themselves from Trump over the Russia scandal, they’ll probably be stopped by the realization that any serious threat to his presidency quickly becomes an equally serious threat to their agenda. A president crippled by a major scandal will be far less able to deliver on tax cuts for the wealthy or deregulation for corporations.

And that was the reason almost every Republican lined up behind Trump in the first place: They may have had their reservations about him, but he’d help them do all the things they’d been yearning to do for eight years. Yet now they can’t escape the devil’s bargain they made.

There are some Republicans more enthusiastic about Trump than others and some that are more sycophantic toward him. But sooner or later, almost all of them will wind up defending him, whether it’s about particular lies he’s told or scandals he’s embroiled in. The stain of cooperating with Donald Trump will be on all of them, and it will never wear off,

In other words, Republicans have gone so far in selling their souls and tying their agenda to Donald Trump that it’s essentially too late to step back now and try to disentangle the two. The process really began long before Trump took office, of course. While there was a nascent ”Never Trump” movement that tried to stop Trump from winning the Republican nomination, that movement was far too little, far too late. For one thing, the opposition remained largely silent until it was too late to make a difference because we had reached a point where Trump gaining a majority of the delegates to win the nomination outright was essentially an inevitability. Before that point, many people on the right either didn’t take Trump seriously or remained quiet in the hope that ignoring him rather than confronting him would somehow make it all go away while others backed candidates such as Marco Rubio who were clearly incapable of taking on Trump directly. Still others backed bizarre schemes to force an open convention or back an unnamed third-party candidate in the General Election that clearly lacked any planning or logical thought on the part of those advancing the ideas. To be fair, any of the original “Never Trump” crowd was genuine in its opposition to Trump and remains so to this day. Once it became clear that Trump was going to win despite those efforts, though, more and more of them, and more and more Republicans who had remained on the sidelines dutifully lined up behind their party’s nominee. Now that he’s the President, that sense of blind partisan loyalty kicked in even further, whether lawmakers who had previously refused to endorse Trump such as Paul Ryan dutifully lining up behind Trump notwithstanding what had been said about him in the past, in some cases by the same politicians now defending him.

The reasons for this are numerous, of course. In some cases, it’s a matter of pure and simple opportunism. The GOP holding both Congress and the Presidency gives Republicans an opportunity they haven’t had since the 2006 election to enact their agenda with little if any ability on the part of Democrats to block them, so if the price to pay for that is supporting a man like Trump many see it as a price worth paying. In other cases, it’s a matter of pure personal opportunism since there is always a personal advantage to having a relationship with the White House even with a President as unpopular as Trump. Others, as Waldman suggests, are under the illusion that they can use Trump to pass their agenda without worrying that the taint of his Administration will rub off on them. As polling is already showing, that probably isn’t going to be the case. Finally, there’s the fact that many of these Republicans agree with Trump’s positions even if they don’t want to publicly admit it. Whatever the reasons, though, by so closely identifying with an already unpopular President this early, Republicans guarantee that they will be held politically responsible for what happens down the line. In the seemingly unlikely event that things turn out well, they’ll get the credit. In the far more likely event that things turn out badly, they’ll be tarnished at least as badly as they were after George W. Bush, and possibly as badly as they were in the aftermath of the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. At that point, it will be too late to do anything about it, indeed it may already be took late. The Republicans have made their choice, now they have to live with it.

FILED UNDER: Congress, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. M. Bouffant says:

    Just a guess: Do you mean “Nixon Administration ” in the second sentence?

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    You lie down with dogs…..

  3. Mark Ivey says:

    Like Michael Reynolds said: The GOP is never gonna get the stink of Donald Trump off of it..

  4. DrDaveT says:

    So, why isn’t the obvious strategy to impeach the mango immediately and move on with the oh-so-pliable Mike Pence to rubber-stamp all of those steal-from-the-poor tax and entitlement reform bills they’ve got waiting in the wings? It’s not like they don’t already have 47 times the evidence they had against Clinton…

  5. gVOR08 says:

    His position on policy issues are about as far removed from traditional conservatism as you can get in a number of respects

    While true, I don’t see how this has much to do with our situation.

    Waldman seems to understand that for Republicans “traditional conservatism” has nothing to do with Burke or Kirk. He sees what it really means.

    A president crippled by a major scandal will be far less able to deliver on tax cuts for the wealthy or deregulation for corporations.

    I did note that in the Gallup poll referenced in another thread, Trump’s approval has fallen very little among self identified Republicans, it’s at 86%. And it can’t fall much further among Democrats. For god knows what reason, 8% of Dems approve.

  6. Tony W says:

    @M. Bouffant:

    His Administration deals in half-truths and outright fabrication with an ease unseen since the Administration.

    I think it’s because there is no parallel. Doug went off looking for a similar situation and never found it.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    That’s the standard problem when you try to run your Manchurian candidate and discover he’s just not that bright.

    Basically, Little Donnie sold his skills as a “great wheeler-dealer” to the Republican Party and they’re now discovering that THAT’S a lie, just like all the other stuff he spouted to bring in the marks….

  8. CSK says:


    The usual explanation is that they’re terrified of the wrath of the Trumpkins, who could–and would–primary them in revenge.

    If the majority of the primary voters are Trumpkins, then I suppose this is a real possibility. I think, though, that the majority of congressional Republicans would be much happier with Trump out and Pence in his place.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    When I was young and foolish I would chase women. They were typically attractive women, but often, after a bit of conversation, say about the time they started telling you the color of your aura*, you’d start getting this nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, they were fwcking nuts.

    But when you are young and foolish and male you don’t always think with your brain, you sometimes (ages 15 to about 35) think with your dick.

    Republicans are thinking with their dicks. They thought they were going to get laid, and now they’re sitting in the emergency room holding some girl’s head as she pukes up her overdose of barbituates and confesses weepily that she hated her father and is thinking of becoming a Scientologist. They can’t just walk away from the Crazy Man, after all, they drove him to the hospital and their names are on the admission form. Besides, maybe, just maybe, they’ll still get laid.

    *Yes, that happened.

  10. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Hell, man, you don’t have to convince me about the aura. I lived in Cambridge.

  11. Scott says:

    I think the right wing knows this is their only chance to complete their assault on the middle and working class. This is why they tried to push the AHCA through in the dark of night. This is why environment regs are going out the door rapidly. They are going to push tax cuts through; the heck with the debt or deficit.

    They have to do this the first year or it won’t happen. And they will stick with Trump. The real question is this: Will Trump stick with them or will self preservation (and need to feed the ego) kick in?

    Trump is no raging ideologue; merely a raging sociopath.

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: @michael reynolds:

    If it’s not the auras, it’s the chakras.

    One of my friends who is a hard-core occultist calls them “New Age ninnies”.

  13. Tony W says:

    @michael reynolds:

    the color of your aura

    I grew up in Boulder, Colorado in the 1970s. I could probably tell you the color of your aura from here.

  14. Slugger says:

    I find it easy to believe that late at night JEB, Cruz, Rubio, and even Ryan are laughing their a**es off. I am sure McCain and Romney are. Chris Christie and that Aggie cheerleader with the intelligent eyeglasses might still be in his corner. I don’t think that the Republican Party is in his corner. I am waiting to hear from Palin.
    There have been demonstrations in Russia over the weekend. The idea that the US is behind them is certainly one hypothesis that Putin is considering. Putin may think that Trump is not a reliable ally. We may hear a lot more disclosures.

  15. grumpy realist says:
  16. al-Alameda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Hell, man, you don’t have to convince me about the aura. I lived in Cambridge.

    Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” was all about that, right?
    …”Sweet things from Boston, so young and willing …”

  17. al-Alameda says:

    @Tony W:

    I grew up in Boulder, Colorado in the 1970s. I could probably tell you the color of your aura from here.

    I grew up just north of San Francisco in Marin County and I think that people in Mill Valley and Sausalito can you tell the color of an aura over great distances.

  18. Laura Koerber says:

    Does anyone think that Cruz, Rubio, or that doctor Ben Carlson would be any better? I think taht all of the Republican candidates would have been disastrous for America. None of them had the character to be President.

    None of them respected facts. None respected expertise. Fiorino, Ruboi, and Cruz are self-serving predators, and poor old Ben Carson was just befuddled.

    . This whole health care debacle would have played out the same regardless of which Republican was President because none of them would have been capable of saying, “Hey the ACA is basically okay, so let’s do a little constructive fixing and make it better.

    None of hem had any integrity. None had any interest in solving any real problems. They all would have filled the government with representatives of the swamp and would have promoted extremist policies with the cooperation of the Republican majority.

    And I think that all of the other candidates would have been fine with the idea of receiving Russian help. Some of them might have been smarter about how they accepted the help.

    IN a way I think Trump is the best of the bunch> The others, with the exception of Ben Carson who can’t;t walk into a room without getting lost, would have been better able to hide their moral degeneracy and extremist ideas. With Trump, its all out in the open.

  19. Modulo Myself says:

    In the late 90s in SF I had a string of attractive women declare that I possessed psychic capacities. My miraculous powers included suggesting sushi when they wanted sushi.

    Where I had to draw the line was the everyday New Age experience. I can handle people who think auras matter once or twice a year, or the planets or whatever. But my life has always been pretty regular and if it has been interfered with by Saturn or someone else’s aura, it happens like once every six months. Not every day or every hour.

  20. Terrye Cravens says:

    I think a lot of the loyalty is just partisanship. I also think a lot of those Republicans who say they support Trump would not be unhappy if he went away.

  21. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @al-Alameda: Can’t you guys see his aura in that picture he posted? It’s there, look harder.

  22. michael reynolds says:

    Nah, we’ve priced them out to Fairfax, now I think an officially-designated State Hippie Preserve. It’s MILF Valley now, and Sausalito is a sort of shadow art colony – with very little art – as far as I can tell.

  23. grumpy realist says:

    @Modulo Myself: “My Horoscope” by Flanders & Swann:

    Jupiter’s passed through Orion,
    And come into conjunction with Mars.
    Saturn is wheeling through infinite space,
    To its pre-ordained place in the stars.

    And I gaze at the planets in wonder,
    At the trouble and time they expend.
    All to warn me to be careful,
    In dealings involving a friend!

    (There’s a Youtube video of them performing this in concert somewhere….)

  24. Steve V says:

    @michael reynolds: MILF Valley. Snicker.

  25. Davebo says:

    Let’s put it simply.

    Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party

    Of course they support him. Why they do so is irrelevant. Yes they worry about being primaried. Yes they worry about pissing off Trump and having millions of his followers read his tweets.

    None of that matters. They’ve spent decades building up this basket of deplorables and now they will ride them for whatever they can get.

  26. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds: Spent a nice few days in Tiburon once. Don’t tell me that’s gone too! It’s only been a couple of years ago!

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Nah, we’ve priced them out to Fairfax, now I think an officially-designated State Hippie Preserve. It’s MILF Valley now, and Sausalito is a sort of shadow art colony – with very little art – as far as I can tell.

    Fairfax (and most of the San Geronimo Valley) are the last places in the county where you can see an honest pony tail. Not a film director twist-tie, or a hipster man-bun, a real 60s-70s pony tail. Sausalito officially became a theme park in the 80s, and Mill Valley gave up in the late 90s.

  28. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @michael reynolds: In New Orleans, where I lived during those years, it was “What’s your sign?”

  29. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I don’t think Doug’s premise is as true today as it was a week ago – what a difference 7 days makes! Had Trump taken to the internet to tweet criticisms of specific representatives as withholding support of ACHA, then they might have faced something like grass-roots rage. But unless Trump does that, they’re safe. A year from now it could even be a badge of honor to resist Trump – and then hello 25th Amendment!

  30. CSK says:


    You asked about Palin. She’s a major, major Trump booster. In the first place, she’s Trump in second gear. But she’s desperate to remain relevant, and I suppose she figures that trying to latch onto his coattails is the best way to do so.

  31. Anonne says:

    Andrea Merkel, Doug?

    I’m surprised no one else caught that.

  32. Anonne says:

    Whatever the reasons, though, by so closely identifying with an already unpopular President this early, Republicans guarantee that they will be held politically responsible for what happens down the line.

    The problem is this: the base does not care. We live in alternate realities where the propaganda machines keep churning and minimizing the horror of the situation before us, and people are so polarized that they will defend anything their tribe does. Well, some people – in this case, about 27%. Watch, that is where Trump’s approval numbers will settle. That 27% is enough to put the fear into Republican politicians, though, because it’s the activist portion of their base.

    Still, the reorganization of the left under the Indivisible groups is having an impact, so there is some hope yet.

  33. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist: Wow, I thought I was the last surviving Flanders and Swann aficionado. Hello!

    Trumpishness also reminds me of “A Song of Patriotic Prejudice”:

    And all the world over, each nation’s the same
    They’ve simply no notion of playing the game
    They argue with umpires, they cheer when they’ve won
    And they practice beforehand, which ruins the fun!

    The English, the English, the English are best
    So up with the English and down with the rest. ]

    It’s not that they’re wicked or naturally bad
    It’s knowing they’re foreign that makes them so mad…

  34. grumpy realist says:

    @DrDaveT: I grew up on Flanders & Swann, Tom Leher, and Wayne & Shuster (especially the latter’s “Rinse the Blood off my Toga”). Oh, and Patachou (French cabaret singer.)

  35. iSeeDumbPeople says:

    In defense of auras. I know one young woman who uses her synesthesia quite effectively in her job as a social worker and counselor.