Republicans Losing Fear of Trump

As the President becomes less popular, there are signs he's losing support from his co-partisans in Congress.

President Trump Travels to Maine President Donald J. Trump walks from the Oval Office to the South Lawn of White House to board Marine One for Joint Base Andrews Md. Friday, June 5, 2020, to begin his trip to Bangor, Maine. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufiour)
President Donald J. Trump walks from the Oval Office to the South Lawn of White House to board Marine One for Joint Base Andrews Md. Friday, June 5, 2020, to begin his trip to Bangor, Maine. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufiour)

A series of headlines over the last couple of days have me wondering if we have finally reached the Emperor Has No Clothes point of the Trump presidency.

The two leading newspapers have very similar stories.

WaPo (“Trump pushes fights over racist legacy while much of America moves in a different direction“):

At a time when much of the country appears to be moving in a different direction, President Trump has charged into a series of fights over the nation’s racist legacy — gambling that taking divisive stances on Confederate symbols and policing will energize his mostly white supporters in November.

But many Republicans and even some of Trump’s own advisers worry that the approach risks further alienating voters who have already started to abandon him, including college-educated whites, and to harden opposition to him among minorities.

Though Trump has long sought to exploit class resentment and racial tensions for political gain, his decision to continue to do so in the wake of the death of George Floyd — an unarmed black man killed in Minneapolis policy custody — has left some in his orbit uneasy, and Democrats eager to capitalize on what some say is a racist president revealing his true beliefs.

NYT (“As Americans Shift on Racism, Trump Digs In“):

NASCAR is demanding that its fans no longer fly Confederate flags at races. The Pentagon and some Republican senators are open to renaming military bases that bear the names of Confederate soldiers. Corporate America is taking stances against racial injustice. A majority of Americans say the police show racial bias in their use of force, and a majority of self-described conservatives acknowledge protesters’ frustrations are at least somewhat justified.

Yet with public opinion shifting quickly on racism in America, and even some of the most cautious leaders and institutions talking openly about discrimination and reconciliation, there is still one glaring outlier: President Trump.

Whether it is suggesting shooting protesters or siccing dogs on them, pre-emptively defending the Confederate names of military installations or arguing that his supporters “love the black people,” Mr. Trump increasingly sounds like a cultural relic, detached from not just the left-leaning protesters in the streets but also the country’s political middle and even some Republican allies and his own military leaders.

On the topic of renaming Southern bases named last century after Confederate leaders, Republican Congressional leaders are in open defiance.

CNN (“GOP-led panel moves to remove Confederate names on military assets amid Trump’s opposition“):

A Senate plan to remove names of Confederate leaders on military assets has sharply divided Republicans — and has now put a GOP-led panel at odds with the White House at a time of a wide-ranging re-examination of race in the United States.

The amendment, offered by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, calls for the removal of names of Confederate leaders from all military assets — whether it’s a base, installation, facility, aircraft, ship, plane or type of equipment — within three years. The plan was adopted behind closed doors by voice vote with the support of some Republicans, even as President Donald Trump condemned any action to remove Confederate leaders’ names from military bases — and the White House vowed to veto any such legislative effort.

“There is always a history that we don’t want to forget,” Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said when asked about the plan, which he supports. “With regard to that I agree with the President that we don’t want to forget our history. … But at the same time that doesn’t mean that we should continue with those bases with the names of individuals who fought against our country.”

The amendment comes at a precarious time for Trump, who has struggled to win support within the black community and has seen his poll numbers drop sharply amid his handling of both the coronavirus pandemic and the deep racial unrest caused by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed while in Minneapolis police custody.

The amendment put GOP leaders in an awkward spot — stuck between their efforts to court black voters in a high-stakes election year and a President who demanded that Republicans tow the line and fight back on the amendment.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to say whether he would support the plan, telling CNN: “That’ll be up to the committee to decide.”

To be clear, the Republican Party is very much still the party of Trump. He still enjoys approval from something like 78 percent of registered Republicans and many, if not most, Republican Senators are backing his play of these issues.

Still, we’re seeing much more open defiance and not just from the likes of Mitt Romney. To the extent Trump and his white nationalist platform are seen as hurting the party and, most importantly, the re-election prospects of Republican politicians, they’re going to start abandoning ship. That’s especially true if public sentiment continues to hold as we close in on Election Day and it becomes clear Trump is about to become a lame duck.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    A series of headlines over the last couple of days have me wondering if we have finally reached the Emperor Has No Clothes point of the Trump presidency.

    No, this is just another round of “Susan Collins is deeply disturbed by the things she will vote for next week”.

    29
  2. MarkedMan says:

    If this happens it will be a sight. When Trump feels attacks he counters, usually in the most histrionic fashion possible. He feels no loyalty to the Republican Party but if he feels that anyone on his teams is disloyal he will hit them with everything he’s got with no thought to the bigger picture or consequences. And if it’s a woman or something he perceives as a minority, well as he said, you have to dominate those people or you look weak.

    13
  3. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The Susan Collins weathervane: guaranteed to give the appearance of changing direction without ever moving.

    20
  4. Liberal Capitalist says:

    It’s tough to stand up to a bully.

    If it were only Trump, it likely would be easier, but in his draft come the 30% of the deplorable voters that the GOP has come to count on.

    If they back away from Trump, racism and attacks on the “other” poor that sap the nation of it’s vital bodily fluids, they will not win an election.

    So: for the GOP in congress and elsewhere it’s either support trump, or find an actual job.

    8
  5. Kathy says:

    Hypothesis:

    It’s clear El PITO will likely be gone by next January, but they don’t want to alienate his base for fear of losing their Senate/House seats in November, or being primaried in 2022.

    Possible Proof: more mild opposition between now and the election, along with “of curse he’s going to win in November!”, and followed in 2021 by attempts to either whitewash his so-called administration or throw the past four years into the memory hole.

    5
  6. de stijl says:

    @Kathy:

    By current polling, Rs need to think about running against Trump if they want to retain their CD or state.

    This might be a wipe-out election.

    6
  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    @de stijl:

    Not to mention they no longer have to worried about being primaried this cycle, so they’re going to try to gaslight the public into believing they’ve been centrists the last two years.

    9
  8. Jen says:

    @de stijl:

    This might be a wipe-out election.

    In this house, we’re hoping for an extinction-level event.

    17
  9. Teve says:

    OK, I just looked at The latest Gallup poll And Trump’s support among Republicans has fallen…to 85%.

    Better news though is that the number of people identifying as Republican has dropped significantly.

    16
  10. Lounsbury says:

    @Teve: In fact your second point highlights a fundamental analytical error that people tend to make, treating the categories (here the political party members) as essential things, rather than a changeable and moving category in itself.

    Trump maintaining XX% of support among Republicans over time has to be as well put in the context of whether the referant number, the numerator of the fraction, is remaining more or less the same. Loss of identifiation if it is significant may be more or as meaningful as the party percentages.

    2
  11. de stijl says:

    @Jen:

    I hear you and have my fingers crossed.

    1
  12. James Joyner says:

    @Teve: @Lounsbury: Yes, I note the solid support among Republicans-in-the-electorate but agree that it’s a decreasing category. Still, Republicans-in-government are the thing I’m analyzing (or, really, simply speculating about) here. If Trump is perceived by the party to be causing lasting damage by overplaying his hand on race at a changing moment, we’re likely to see defections from elected politicians before we do from the masses.

    1
  13. R.Dave says:

    @de stijl: This might be a wipe-out election.

    Yeah, I’m torn between my natural instinct that nothing ever turns out as good as you hope or as bad as you fear and an increasing sense that maybe, just maybe, we’ll step up as a country and say “enough” by giving Republicans the sweeping defeat they so richly deserve after the Trump era.

    4
  14. mistermix says:

    @James Joyner: James, I’ll believe it when they go on the record. The stories quoted here are generic “Republican Lawmakers Concerned” stories. When the emperor truly has no clothes, they’ll be willing to be named. I don’t see it happening — too many of their jobs involve dodging a primary challenge from candidates who appeal to the Trump-besotted base.

    8
  15. de stijl says:

    @James Joyner:

    If R identifiers are dropping now, they are getting it sooner than the Reps and Senators are.

    The masses are acting quicker than the elected officials.

    1
  16. James Joyner says:

    @mistermix: That’s fair. It’s risky to identify a trend at its outset because it could be a blip. But this may be a seminal moment in history where an old way of thinking about things changes overnight. (Yes, we’ve been fighting this issue for 150-odd years. But something unusual is happening.)

    @de stijl: But people becoming disgusted with the party and leaving is not the same thing is people staying in the party and voting out an old-style politician. I was unsuccessfully in the latter camp for many years before joining the former.

    2
  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    The cult of personality around Trump was built on the assumption that he was a strongman. But a strongman has to be strong, and he never was. A tiny slice of the GOP is starting to recognize that, but GOP Senators won’t grow spines until polling in their home states deteriorates dramatically. And that’s up to the brainwashed deplorables of Cult45.

    When Mussolini failed some of his people turned against him and tossed him aside. He was rescued by Hitler, but it was a temporary reprieve.

    On 29 April 1945, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci, and the other executed Fascists were loaded into a van and moved south to Milan. At 3:00 am, the corpses were dumped on the ground in the old Piazzale Loreto. The piazza had been renamed “Piazza Quindici Martiri” (Fifteen Martyrs’ Square) in honor of fifteen anti-Fascists recently executed there.[187]
    After being kicked and spat upon, the bodies were hung upside down from the roof of an Esso gas station.[188] The bodies were then stoned from below by civilians.

    Of course the Italians had communists to form a disciplined core.

    Hitler’s cult of personality lived on til he blew his brains out (just two days after Mussolini died) in the burning wreckage of Berlin, and indeed survives to this day.

    Stalin’s cult survived his catastrophically bad governance. Khrushchev tried to knock it down, but Putin is busy reviving it.

    Ten years from now half of Cult45 will pull a Saint Peter and deny they ever supported him, and half will still be true believers. I suppose we’ll see whether he engenders ongoing veneration like Hitler, be revived like Stalin, or become a historical laughingstock like Mussolini.

    13
  18. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    One that will have a Deep Impact.

    4
  19. senyordave says:

    I would guess that as Trump continues to completely abandon the dog whistles and go all in on overt white nationalism the numbers of self-identifying Republicans will drift slowly downward. The remaining ones for the most part are very comfortable with his racism. Maybe they will get to the “27% crazification” factor that I read about. He couldn’t even fake caring enough to give a speech on race. I’m glad he didn’t because that would have given David Brooks and the other pundit clowns the opportunity to tell us that this was the moment when Donald Trump became presidential. At this pointy I hope Trump stays his course.

    1
  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    True, but for repugs who are up for reelection this year, the window to be primaried has closed, so the fear of being on Tiny’s bad side is lessened. There was a piece on Politico(?) yesterday, noting that repug senators in contested states have dropped mention of the president in their advertising.

  21. Sleeping Dog says:

    The folks at 538 and others, have contended for months that when Repugs abandon Tiny, it will be all at once in a stampede. Is his drop to under 40% approval the first Impala’s breaking from the herd? Maybe and the attendance and demand for tickets at the upcoming rallies should tell us a lot about the solidity of his base.

    3
  22. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “I note the solid support among Republicans-in-the-electorate but agree that it’s a decreasing category.”

    Don’t tell the President’s new pollster — he will demand a retraction and apology.

    4
  23. @James Joyner:

    we’re likely to see defections from elected politicians before we do from the masses.

    Apart from around the edges (e.g., Romney-like behavior), I think you have this backward.

    Party-in-governments needs party-in-electorate to remain in government. So, unless the voters turn, the officer-holders are stuck.

    8
  24. @Michael Reynolds:

    The cult of personality around Trump was built on the assumption that he was a strongman. But a strongman has to be strong, and he never was.

    Not to reignite the previous debate, but to provide an alternative position for the sake general discussion: adherence to Trump by elected officials is about him being head of the party and therefore having a great deal of influence over the reelection of GOP office-holders. Weak, strong, charismatic or not, ever since Trump was nominated, the party has started conforming because he is the leader of the party and is the route to power. Even after nomination, note that he was roundly criticized after the Access Hollywood tape by co-partisans because they thought he was going to lose. Once he won election, notice how even those who once criticize him stopped doing so.

    Lindsay Graham, please pick up the white courtesy phone…

    They will stick with him now because they have nowhere else to go.

    11
  25. @Sleeping Dog:

    Is his drop to under 40% approval the first Impala’s breaking from the herd?

    Keep in mind: he has been lower and 39% is basically within the MOE of his average approval, IIRC.

    5
  26. dazedandconfused says:

    “How did you go bankrupt?”
    Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

    ― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

    I imagine this is how Caligula would’ve described his fate too.

    5
  27. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I hope this is a turning point, but I won’t believe it until R’s are attaching their names to the complaining, he’s lost the election, and Jan 20th 2021 has rolled around and he’s out of the White House.

    7
  28. de stijl says:

    @CSK:

    I liked that first act included the bit where Tea Leoni thought she was nailing down a story about a mistress named Ellie.

    It was actually quite clever.

    Not a great movie. Competent. I liked that people actually died and Bruce Willis didn’t miraculously save the planet.

    Then there was the other story line with Frodo on a dirtbike that was less competent. The B story was C grade.

  29. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Lindsay Graham should run a master class on toadying.

    His behavior and words through this long national nightmare are frankly astonishing. To debase oneself that completely in front of everyone.

    The Pixies have a great song called Debaser.

    The Pixies have dozens of great songs.

    2
  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Senators aren’t by and large part of the cult of personality any more than all of Hitler’s generals thought he was a genius.

    The electoral threat to Senators comes from voters – voters who used to vote for fiscal prudence and suddenly changed their minds, voters who used to support the military and then didn’t, voters who used to admire the intel agencies and then didn’t, voters who opposed adultery with porn stars and then didn’t, etc…

    Professional GOP pols fell in line for fear of voters devoted not to them, not to their agenda, not to the party, not to policy, but to Trump. So devoted to Trump that they regularly do 180’s on policy. It is the voter devotion to Trump which superceded all previous loyalties, to such an extent that people who one day thought Leon Trotsky, er, John McCain was a hero, suddenly thought he was a traitor. GOP pols are bystanders because in a cult of personality there cannot be multiple authorities, just one, and that is why no one can speak for Trump with any confidence.

    The GOP has decided they don’t need a party platform this year. They just need Trump because only Trump gets to decide what anyone in the party believes and anyone who argues with him is attacked by Trump and his minions. That is a cult of personality.

    14
  31. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    After being kicked and spat upon, the bodies were hung upside down from the roof of an Esso gas station.[188] The bodies were then stoned from below by civilians.

    My father was there.

    He was also at Monte Casino, and told me how the allies really took the monastery. It was the the Sikhs–and how they did it is both amazing and terrifying. (sorry if that sounds like click-bait)

    3
  32. Pete S says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I would hope that each Democratic candidate facing an incumbent Republican Senator points out in every ad how often that Senator voted with Trump. Especially Susan Collins.

    3
  33. Kathy says:

    Trump’s crush doesn’t like him anymore.

    Or, rather, the Kim regime is betting on Trump losing in November as well.

  34. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Well, I suppose Kim won’t be penning Trump any more “beautiful” letters. The love affair has come tom an end.

  35. al Ameda says:

    They’re STILL not so concerned that they will be much more than ‘very concerned’ or ‘deeply concerned.’

    I assume many of us here on OTB saw the video clip a couple of days ago wherein a reporter tried to get any Republican senator to comment on Trump’s support of the OANN conspiratorial theory that the elderly man knocked to the ground by Buffalo police officers was an ANTIFA provocateur. NOT one stopped to say that the conspiracy was bullsh**. It looked like a morning walk of shame in a Trump Hotel lobby.

    These Republicans are STILL afraid of Trump.

    9
  36. Jax says:

    @Mu Yixiao: I would be interested in reading any links you can post on Monte Cassino. Amazing and terrifying is right up my “history alley”. 😉

    1
  37. de stijl says:

    Better than losing Fear Of Music. That’s a great album. That black diamond plate cover with bumps.

    Cities, Air, Life During Wartime, Heaven.

    I Zimbra blew my puny teenaged brain. The rhythm was undescribable.

    1
  38. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Jax:

    I thought I had the story uploaded to YouTube, but it’s not there. I’ll find the clip, upload it, and link it.

  39. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Jax:

    I’m sorry.

    That story isn’t one that he told the one day I was able to get him to talk in front of a camera. Here’s the story as best as I can tell it:

    Monte Casino was taken by the Germans. The American 5th Army–attached to the British 8th Army–surrounded the mountain. The Germans had the high ground, and neither army was ready to take the mountain. Bombing was dismissed by both US and UK because it was a monastery, and nobody wanted the PR that would come with it.

    On the 14th of February, 1944, the US bombed the monastery.

    The Germans just dug into the rubble. They were set up in perimeter tents–8 men to a tent.

    The Americans and Brits argued about who would go up the mountain. After a while, the Sikhs (part of the British army) stepped up and said “We will go.”

    As citizens of a British colony, the Sikhs could not be officers–so they couldn’t carry side arms. They could, however, carry swords–in this case, scimitars.

    That evening, the Sikhs stood their rifles in “corn shalks” and walked up the mountain.

    In the morning, the Germans (what were left of them) walked down the mountain with their commanding officer at the front, at gun point.

    The German troops offered their surrender. Their CO refused. The Germans walked him off to the side, shot him through the head, and returned to offer their surrender.

    During the night, the Sikhs had entered each tent, decapitated 7 of the 8 Germans in each, gently separated the heads from the bodies, and silently left.

    The Germans who marched down the mountain in the morning–their CO at gunpoint–were the lucky few who had woken up to find everyone else in their tent with their head deliberately placed away from their body.

    The message was sent, received, and understood.

    3
  40. @Michael Reynolds: I understand you prefer the frame “cult of personality” but I am not sure why what you are describing isn’t basic partisanship and motivated thinking linked thereto. It really isn’t necessary to link it to Hitlerian comparisons to explain it.

    I thought you didn’t want to debate this? (A sincere observation based on our last interaction on this).

  41. @Michael Reynolds: Oh, and by the way, when has a party ever really cared about it’s platform? (Or when has the platform mattered?). The platform is performance art to satisfy activists.

    I wish the platform mattered, as it would make studying parties a lot easier.

    2
  42. @Michael Reynolds: There is a degree to which we are saying very similar things, but by no means identical things. You think that there is something about Trump, in particular, that inspires a “cult of personality” while I think that there are partisan identifications that move people to motivated thinking, regardless of who the leader is.

    But I certainly do agree that Trump appeals to a dark side of the GOP electorate.

  43. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I would say that appealing to the dark side is a distinction without a difference when it comes to defining a cult. This is what Trump does. His appeal isn’t ideological; it’s primal. Look at how many conservative pundits have pointed out that Trump is neither conservative nor Republican. His supporters don’t give a damn about fiscal policy, though some of them will claim they do. People who scream “Lock her up!” at rallies are motivated by vengeance against the elites, i.e. anyone smarter, better educated, more cultivated, more cosmopolitan than they are.

    5
  44. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I like the UK concept of manifesto where the potential PM and the party promise to do x, y, and z (zed, technically). And if we fail, we expect to get sacked and give the next person a go. It’s why May got shuffled off – she could not deliver. So Johnson takes up the mantle.

    It’s quasi-legal formalized sort of fairly tactical, measurable campaign promises.

    Obviously, better suited to a parliamentary system, but the formality and consequences are intriguing.

    In the US, platforms are ignored after the special interests get their planks, and campaign promises are seen as vague and non-binding.

    Warren seemed to have gone down the path of a more formalized and structured approach to campaign promises which I greatly appreciated.

    (I am in no way any expert on UK politics, and may have not fully understood manifestos.)

  45. @CSK: At some point, I may have to do a post on why I find the term “cult” and even “cult a personality” problematic. They are not analytical terms and they are basically derogatory terms used again people we don’t like (can anyone really tell me that “Cult45” is really anything more than an insult?).

    The term “cult” is also often used for things we don’t understand. How could anyone like that stuff? There must be a quasi-mystical reason for it!

    And what is the definition of membership? Voting for Trump? Owning a MAGA hat? Wearing the MAGA hat in public? Going to a rally?

    And yes, a lot of it is ideological. White nationalism is ideological. And Trump has tapped into that. And he has fed ideological hungers as it pertains to taxes and judges.

    This is not all about personality.

    But the bottom line remains, and I keep stressing this: most people do not develop an ideological perspective and then choose a party based on that perspective. They choose the party first (or their parents did) and then they rationalize their support.

    Once he is out of office, the fervor for Trump will be gone. That will be evidence that it was not his personality that drove the day, but the fact that the fervor was driven primarily by his role as head of party.

    If he can fill auditoriums at the same rate and level at the drop of hat once he is out of office, we’ll talk about how wrong I was.

    1
  46. @de stijl: A party manifesto is essentially a party platform. What is different in the UK is that in a parliamentary system the majority party (or coalition) had the power to enact their goals (they have, by definition, control of the legislature and the executive).

    As such, they can be directly held accountable for no doing what they said they would.

    In the US the party platform cannot be credibly executed unless the party holds the White House, the House, and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate (which is to say, almost never). As such the platform is largely pointless.

    (Not to mention that even if the party had the control noted above, there is no guarantee that the President, Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader all agree on priorities, but it is guaranteed that the Prime Minister and cabinet are in agreement with the majority of parliament).

    A parliamentary system is better situated to govern, and for parties to be accountable to the voters for what they promised to do.

    1
  47. @CSK: @Steven L. Taylor: To be more direct there is no operative definition of “cult” that applies here. And I suspect that if we tried to construct one it would be based on subjective perceptions of political opponents and would miraculously fit a certain kind of Trump supporter.

    And yet, we don’t need that term. What I have been describing for some time, partisanship, motivated reasoning, institutional constraints and the way we divvy up power , and host of other issues explain what we are seeing and don’t require creating new frames.

    And the behavior we are seeing is not as odd as everyone who doesn’t like Trump makes it out to be.

    None of that means that Trump is just another GOP president or that the party isn’t currently courting white nationalism, if not converting into a ethno-nationalist party.

    What I have been trying to explain, among other things, is how this can happen and it starts with a binary choice in elections that forces people to rationalize support for their side.

    And yes, there is a group of hardcore white nationalists out there. And Trump is giving them voice. But white nationalism is not a cult, it is a real political current that is not just a US phenomenon. See, e.g., the National Front in France or any number of other parties across Europe.

    1
  48. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Apart from around the edges (e.g., Romney-like behavior), I think you have this backward.

    Party-in-governments needs party-in-electorate to remain in government. So, unless the voters turn, the officer-holders are stuck.

    That’s fair. But you’d think professional pols with pollsters would be eager to get out ahead of the trend rather than be smashed by a wave.

    1
  49. @CSK:

    People who scream “Lock her up!” at rallies are motivated by vengeance against the elites, i.e. anyone smarter, better educated, more cultivated, more cosmopolitan than they are.

    The people at the RNC who chanted that where almost certainly all educated professionals and definable as elites in their communities. The guy who started that chant, Michael Flynn, is certainly an elite.

    And don’t you think you could get a group of Democrats in a crowd to chant some harsh things about Trump? I am certain you could. Would that make them culties?

    2
  50. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    “Once he is out of office, the fervor for Trump will be gone.” Well, yes, it will, but that will be because he’s no longer in a position to do anything for anyone. (Not that he ever did, but his fans have to believe that.) It won’t mean that he’s not looked back on with adoration and longing.

    I think it’s a cult because people who love Trump appear to have a far, far greater emotional investment in him than they did in any president in my lifetime.

    So many Trump fans have said that there is nothing he could do or say that would turn them away from him. Nothing. That’s a cult.

    3
  51. @James Joyner:

    But you’d think professional pols with pollsters would be eager to get out ahead of the trend rather than be smashed by a wave.

    But this gets to the heart of what I have been trying to get across: if you are Republican politician right now, what choice do you have? You aren’t going to win over Democratic voters if you say that Biden should be president. You aren’t going to win over Democratic voters if you start criticizing Trump.

    Indeed, if you start criticizing Trump doesn’t that give your opponent the ability to say: why vote for the R, when you can have the real deal with the D?

    Plus, while his support has dipped, Rs approve of Trump at huge levels, so going against him runs the risk of losing office.

    Plus, even if they themselves keep their office but the Dems win the White House, their power is diminished.

    The only route to power is supporting Trump, and so they will unless somehow they think not doing so is in their interest (maybe someone like Murkowski).

    Romney knows that Trump isn’t popular in Utah, plus he isn’t up this year. Those two things help him be truer to his ideals than he might otherwise be.

    1
  52. @CSK:

    Well, yes, it will, but that will be because he’s no longer in a position to do anything for anyone.

    And that fits my frame far better than the “cult” one.

    It won’t mean that he’s not looked back on with adoration and longing.

    By whom and to what degree? In the immediate aftermath of the loss? Sure. Will some people look back on his presidency favorably? Of course (some still think Nixon was great).

    And exactly how much longing is there going to be for the turmoil of this presidency?

    So many Trump fans have said that there is nothing he could do or say that would turn them away from him. Nothing. That’s a cult.

    No, that’s politics. (And, he actually has turned some people away).

    And the reality is that in a binary system the R is going to get at least 40% of the vote just for being an R.

    And I know the Ds here don’t believe this: but if the Ds put up a terrible person who would promise control of SCOTUS, statehood for PR and DC, and tax reform, a lot of us would vote for him/her.

    For sure that person would get 40% of the vote or more. Maybe some of us would become NeverDs in response to this person’s awfulness, but it doesn’t require a cult to get this kind of outcome.

    This is why nomination processes matter.

    This is why the EC is a problem.

    This is why we need reform that doesn’t force voters into a binary choice.

    It is too easy (in relative terms) for a kook to become the nominee of one of the two parties and then get all the benefits that accrue to the nominee.

    (And yes, help mobilize certain segments of the population).

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  53. @James Joyner:

    But you’d think professional pols with pollsters would be eager to get out ahead of the trend rather than be smashed by a wave.

    Question on this: what do you think they can do and what would the result be? What am I missing?

    It seems to me that if the wave is coming to smash them it will be because of D turnout and Rs staying home and some switching of Rs to Ds. I don’t seem how Rs turning on Trump helps any of that.

  54. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I just watched Flynn’s speech at the RNC (I couldn’t stand to watch in 2016) and will certainly concede that you are right about that.

    The Trump Fan Club further defines “elites” as anyone who doesn’t like Trump, the “blue collar billionaire,” as they call him. This has some truth to it, if you define a blue collar person as a crude buffoon, but Trump himself never hesitates to brag about his degree from Wharton, which is certainly elite, and you would think his fans would find that off-putting. But their tragedy is that they have no idea how much he despises them, and how full of contempt for them he is.

    I need to refine my definition of “elite” to that of an educated, refined, cultivated, cosmopolitan individual who can’t stand Donald Trump.

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  55. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I certainly agree that it’s far too easy for a kook to become the nominee of a party. Didn’t Mencken predict long ago that we’d eventually get someone like Trump?

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  56. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    (can anyone really tell me that “Cult45” is really anything more than an insult?).

    Speaking only for myself, understand, but I never thought of “Cult 45” as anything other than a insult. I would assign the same motive/intent to “Mangolini” and “the Orange turd”. I also include “libtard,” “Demonrat,” “Obummer,” and various other appellations too numerous to list in the same category. One of the unfortunate outcomes of discourse on the internet becoming the voice of the zeitgeist and the ultimate expression of our deepest thoughts has been to reveal how shallow and petty we really are. Insults used to have character and panache; now the most significant voice is that of the schoolyard bully (another nickname for Trump, ironically enough, but not used often–not coarse enough, I suspect).

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  57. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    At some point, I may have to do a post on why I find the term “cult” and even “cult a personality” problematic. They are not analytical terms and they are basically derogatory terms

    I, for one, would love to read such a post. Do you find the whole concept bankrupt? Or is it a bit slippery like fascism, but still useful? Taking a quick peek at Wikipedia, I see: Cult of personality:

    A cult of personality, or cult of the leader, arises when a country’s regime – or, more rarely, an individual – uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is established by modern social engineering techniques, usually by the state or the party in one-party states and dominant-party states. It is often seen in totalitarian or authoritarian countries.

    This is not a new concept created specifically for Trump. There is only one president in my lifetime for whom the above could potentially apply.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    most people do not develop an ideological perspective and then choose a party based on that perspective. They choose the party first (or their parents did) and then they rationalize their support.

    What makes modern-day Republicans look like a cult is how quickly the majority of the base flipped from seeming to support an ideology to being frankly identity-based. They could turn on a dime repeatedly, leaving the politicians, right-wing intellectuals, along with the rest of the base token up as best they could.

    My tentative reading of our age is that Republican strategists discovered that they did not need to appeal to the center, and that they could win elections with a combination of ideological purity (to drive out the base to vote), and sculduggery (to suppress voting on the other side). The elites felt they were in control, and firing on all cylinders under Bush. Party discipline worked surprisingly well during the Obama years, even if it left a few feeling uneasy. Then came Trump. The elites realized that they were no longer in the driver’s seat, but still going in a direction they could live with, at least if they closed their eyes. The white nationalists thrilled to realize that they were the immoral majority of their party, and thus the majority of real power. The rest of the base saw that the political rightward drift of the past generation had made the leap to the Democrats nearly impossible, especially given modern propaganda.

    So 1/3rd of the country feels like a cult because they are identity-based and no longer (if ever) committed to liberal democracy. The elites don’t care of white nationalism, but they do care for money and power, and so they go along, even if most would prefer the old order. And last, 10-15% of the country go along because they have always voted Republican, because the leap is far, and because they are in their own information bubbles and believe that the Left is the enemy.

    If he can fill auditoriums at the same rate and level at the drop of hat once he is out of office, we’ll talk about how wrong I was.

    I doubt it will play out like that. The nationalistic Right is now a force and 1/3rd of the country is not going to simply melt away. They will want a strongman to replace Trump. Strongman and cult go together.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And yet, we don’t need that term. What I have been describing for some time, partisanship, motivated reasoning, institutional constraints and the way we divvy up power , and host of other issues explain what we are seeing and don’t require creating new frames.

    I think that something new is afoot in the world, and, if true, that your frame could never recognize it. If we were to entertain, just for a moment, the notion that Trump truly is leading a cult of personality, your analysis would be powerless to recognize that.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And I know the Ds here don’t believe this: but if the Ds put up a terrible person who would promise control of SCOTUS, statehood for PR and DC, and tax reform, a lot of us would vote for him/her.

    I really don’t think so, or at least not in the same way. You cannot go all-in on identity politics on the Left simply because there is no identity that can encompass enough of the base to have any real political meaning. And that means that you need to unite around principles. And that, at least in a liberal democracy, means that you cannot grow a cult around a strongman. Turning a blind eye to Kennedy and Clinton chasing skirts while they work at strengthening democracy (at least as judged at the time), is hardly the same thing.

    I’m rambling. But let me end by speculating that any future President Romney will never be accused of being the center of a cult of personality. Why is that?

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  58. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK:

    you would think his fans would find that off-putting.

    Speaking as one of those blue collar types growing up, I looked at the award of a scholarship to Princeton to one of my working class, blue collar-parented classmates as more of an “up yours, snooty rich kids!” type of event. YMMV.

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  59. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Of course. That’s perfectly understandable. And I think if your classmate had gone through Princeton, graduated, and years later swore fealty to Donald Trump, the Trump fans wouldn’t consider him an “elitist.” An elitist, as I said, would be someone who went to Princeton who can’t stomach Trump. And not necessarily Princeton. In fact, you wouldn’t even have to have attended university. You’re an elitist if you hate Trump. You’re not an elitist if you don’t hate Trump.

    Your origins may be blue collar. But you loathe Trump, so that makes you an elitist.

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  60. @Kit:

    I think that something new is afoot in the world, and, if true, that your frame could never recognize it.

    A lot that could be said, but let me focus on this. None of this is new. Populism isn’t new. Ethnic nationalism isn’t new. White supremacy isn’t new. Presidentialized parties isn’t new. Partisanship isn’t new. Heck, “America First” isn’t new.

    At the most basic level of why I have been harping on all of this is I trying to explain how we got where we are. We got here in large measure because of really terrible institutions (more specifically the nomination process and the Electoral College all in the context of our binary party system). Once you nominate someone, no matter how bad or unqualified they have a chance to win.

    Trump didn’t win the presidency because he formed a cult of personality (which I allow is not a new term, but it is also a term that I think lacks analytical usefulness because it puts way too much emphasis on “personality”).

    BTW: Hitler didn’t come to power because of a cult of personality, either. I think all of that is overblown. Personality is not sufficient to take over a country. There have to preexisting views that can be exploited and the institutional context had to be sufficiently permissive. (Among other things).

    Also: I think “cult” is misleading because the notion of a cult is that people get lured into it. They get bewitched or tricked.

    The GOP electorate was a pre-existing entity that Trump inherited by being nominated. And yes, the nominating electorate, at least a portion of it, liked him enough to vote for him. (As noted: the primary process has serious flaws if it cannot block a candidate like Trump–a candidate no GOP elite wanted to be the nominee at the start of all of this).

    And yes, there is a significant portion of the electorate that has white supremacist/white nationalist impulses. And there is another segment willing to ignore that (or rationalize it away) for judges, tax cuts, and deregulation.

    That isn’t, in my view, a cult of personality. It is a political party in action (which can have undesirable outcomes).

  61. @Kit:

    I really don’t think so, or at least not in the same way. You cannot go all-in on identity politics on the Left simply because there is no identity that can encompass enough of the base to have any real political meaning. And that means that you need to unite around principles. And that, at least in a liberal democracy, means that you cannot grow a cult around a strongman. Turning a blind eye to Kennedy and Clinton chasing skirts while they work at strengthening democracy (at least as judged at the time), is hardly the same thing.

    Well, like I said, “I know the Ds here don’t believe this” 😉

    Again, individuals will react as they react George Will quit the GOP. I, personally, would almost certainly vote sane Republican over crazy Trump-like Democrat. BUT, the mass of people would not respond that way. They would vote their team, This is the fundamental point that I keep trying to make. The single most significant variable for explaining mass voting behavior is pre-existing partisan identification. There is just no way around that fact.

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  62. Making Trump the result of a “cult of personality” lets American institutions and American politics off the hook, in my opinion (and I just don’t find that category all that helpful, save as a derisive description).

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  63. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “And exactly how much longing is there going to be for the turmoil of this presidency?”

    I predict that by 2022 it will be common knowledge among Republicans that Covid-19 and the current protests happened under Biden’s presidency and that they were all his fault.

  64. @wr: Indeed. After all, the financial crisis and the Great Recession started in 2009, right?

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  65. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I make a vivid distinction between people who hold their noses and vote for Trump (a smaller number today than in 2016) and those who vote for Trump because they worship him. The first group would be the party loyalists. The second group would be the cultists.

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  66. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    None of this is new. Populism isn’t new. Ethnic nationalism isn’t new. White supremacy isn’t new. Presidentialized parties isn’t new. Partisanship isn’t new. Heck, “America First” isn’t new.

    The internet, and all that it has brought in its wake, is profoundly new. Historically significant, even.

    Trump didn’t win the presidency because he formed a cult of personality (which I allow is not a new term, but it is also a term that I think lacks analytical usefulness because it puts way too much emphasis on “personality”).

    I’d honestly appreciate you dedicating a post to this whenever you find the time to organize your thoughts on the matter. I mentioned why I think the term cult resonates, although I’m happy to use something else as long as what’s distinctive does not get lost in wash of the same old same old. Same with cult of personality.

    The single most significant variable for explaining mass voting behavior is pre-existing partisan identification. There is just no way around that fact.

    And this is where we start to go around in circles 🙂 I pretty much accept all that you’ve written on this subject, and found your last major attempt at explaining your thoughts extremely useful. But that 1/3rd of the country that has no real fidelity to liberal democracy, that has managed to find a sort of class consciousness, that vibrates to the frequencies of white nationalism and conspiracy theories, that controls all the major levers of power, well that group just doesn’t smell like anything that I’ve ever known in my life. They may well have always been around, just silent and unorganized. This cancer will, as you have laid out, work within the dynamics of a two-party system, but those people will not melt away upon the election of the next President Milquetoast just because he is a Republican. Trump, I fear, was not an aberration but the face of the future. As David Runciman said: Power doesn’t tell us the true nature of the man; the man tells us the true nature of the power. The US is not just regressing, it is unraveling. Something new is afoot.

    The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. (Guess the quotation 🙂 )

  67. @Kit: The GOP is heading very much in white nationalist water due to real and perceived loss of power. This is not good and I have never denied that. By the same token, racism isn’t new nor is the ability use to it of political mobilization.

    but those people will not melt away upon the election of the next President Milquetoast just because he is a Republican

    Doesn’t that statement undercut the “cult of personality” argument? That it isn’t just about Trump?

    And yes, the internet is new and it both amplifies fringes and distorts one’s understanding of what may or may not be going on.

    Feelings aren’t analysis, and what we feel in the moment may not be the broader nor long-term truth.

  68. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Doesn’t that statement undercut the “cult of personality” argument? That it isn’t just about Trump?

    Perhaps, but that is not really my argument! While I don’t mind throwing around the term (although I’m not really sure that I ever have), and I do think that it captures something about the our moment, I happy to hear arguments for why it either doesn’t apply, or is simply rubbish as a concept. And that’s why I asked your opinion!

    But I do think that white nationalism presents a huge danger to our democracy, that it is organized as never before, and that it will latch on to any charismatic strongman who comes along. And, yeah, there’s something about a popular strongman and a cult of personality that seem to go together. If Trump doesn’t prove to be The One, then he’ll at least be seen by the faithful as being its John the Baptist.