Saturday, October 28, 2017

Trump supporters look like a cult but even his base does not like how he conducts himself

Here are three takes from Washington Post writers on sources of Trump support — and its decline.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) provides some perspective on how The Trump authoritarian cult is driving the Republican “civil war.”

The Glorious Republican Civil War of 2017 isn’t really a battle over policy or ideology. It isn’t even quite the clash of grand agendas we constantly read about — the supposed showdown between populist economic nationalism on one side, and limited government conservatism, free trade and internationalism on the other.

Instead, the GOP civil war is really a battle over whether Republican lawmakers should — or should not — genuflect before President Trump. The battle is over whether they should — or should not — applaud his racism, his authoritarianism and his obvious pleasure in dispensing abuse and sowing racial division. It’s also over whether Republicans should submit to Trump’s ongoing insistence that his lack of major accomplishments is fully the fault of Republicans who failed his greatness.

The GOP civil war is really over how Republicans should react to Trump’s bigotry and authoritarianism, and about how they should react when Trump demands that they admit that they are the losers when things go wrong. This is why Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker focused their criticism on those particular excesses; why other Republicans were reluctant to endorse that criticism; and why Trump easily brushed them off by ridiculing them as losers. This is not to say there are no meaningful policy divisions — if Trump pulls out of NAFTA, there will be a real schism — but rather that they pale in importance to these larger story lines. Trump put it well in this tweet:

Jeff Flake, with an 18% approval rating in Arizona, said “a lot of my colleagues have spoken out.” Really, they just gave me a standing O!
5:33 AM - Oct 25, 2017

We don’t know if that actually happened, or if it did, why Republicans applauded Trump. But what Trump means by this is that Republicans have no choice but to applaud him even though he damn well will keep doing all the things that Flake and Corker protested, and even though they also find those things distasteful or horrifying. And as it happens, Trump is right.

EJ Dionne, also at the Washington Post, tells us why Republicans won’t quit Trump. (h/t AzBlueMeanie.) A recent Pew research report tallies support among various types of Republican voters.

Yes, it’s a very big deal that Republicans Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, John McCain and George W. Bush are now ready to take on what Flake rightly calls President Trump’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior. Their voices are the sound of the protective political wall around the White House cracking.

But the other side to this story is as disturbing as the signs of open rebellion are heartening: Both Corker and Flake have chosen not to run for reelection because they know that their views are out of line with those of the GOP’s electorate.

Flake was plainly on track to lose reelection next year. The Republican congressional leadership, far from embracing Flake and Corker, moved immediately to sidestep any challenges to their “complicity” and get on with tax cuts, their sacred cause.

Flake’s address on the floor of the Senate coincided with the release of an important study by the Pew Research Center that helped explain Trump’s self-confidence. The report analyzed the United States’ political landscape and offered an updated typology of the key partisan and ideological groups in the American electorate. …

Pew described four GOP groups: Core Conservatives, 34 percent of registered voters who call themselves Republican or lean that way; Country First Conservatives, 15 percent; Market Skeptic Republicans (22 percent); and New Era Enterprisers (18 percent). The remainder of Republicans scatter among other groups in Pew’s typology.

Basically the results show that every one of these groups overwhelmingly support Trump. For instance:

… as of this summer, when the survey on which the study is based was undertaken, 93 percent of Core Conservatives [like Flake] approved of Trump’s job performance and 90 percent had a favorable view of him. If this group stays with Trump, most congressional Republicans will, too. …

However, newer data suggests that things are not looking that good for Trump. Dionne hedges:

Trump’s GOP numbers may well have deteriorated in the months since the survey was completed, and even then, there were warning signs in the answers Republicans gave to a question Pew asked about how Trump “conducts himself as president.”

I computed the percentages of those responding positively to how Trump “conducts himself as president” weighted by the different groups’ frequencies in the Pew sample. Only 31% of that entire sample liked the way Trump conducts himself.

Trump’s GOP opponents can still hope to demonstrate that the negative impact of how the president operates matters far more than any ideological victories he might deliver to conservatives. Trump daily proves Corker’s point that it’s foolish to expect he’ll ever change.

But it will be an uphill struggle. Republicans such as Flake and Corker have reason to worry their party is so profoundly Trumpified that it is lost to them. At some point, they may just have to walk away.

There are other signs that Trump’s support is on the wane. Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post/Right Turn) warns Republican lawmakers that Trump’s poll numbers should be a warning to Republicans.

Despite the eloquence of former president George W. Bush and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) — all of whom have discussed the unfitness of President Trump and the unacceptability of Trumpism — we have yet to see a throng of brave Republicans step forward to grab their party back from the president. Flake declared from the Senate floor:

It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, “Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?”— what are we going to say?

Based on what we have seen so far, they will have to mumble something or another and shuffle their feet. Contrary to Flake’s exhortation, they are still putting political self-preservation above country and principle. (“The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics. Because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.”)

Well, if eloquence and appeals to conscience don’t persuade them, perhaps some cold, hard poll numbers will. A Fox News poll shows the president at a new polling low:

Thirty-eight percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing in a new Fox News poll, down from 42 percent last month. At the same time, disapproval is up 4 points to a high of 57 percent. That includes 49 percent who “strongly” disapprove.

Some of the drop comes from white men without a college degree, as 56 percent approve of the president, down from 68 percent last month. Working-class white men were a key voting bloc for him in the election.

It seems that the NFL kneeling issue, sparring with a Gold Star wife, insulting members of Congress and flopping around like a fish out of water on everything from health care to taxes have not endeared Trump to the country, or even his own base. He is personally reviled …

Rubin goes on to cite other numbers showing that the public thinks Trump is neither honest nor trustworthy. He does not have “the knowledge (38 percent), compassion (37 percent), and judgment (37 percent) to serve effectively as president.” The public does not believe that Trump “cares about me”, and that is especially true when “me” is nonwhite, female, young, and poor. Trump has similarly lousy ratings on health care and hurricane relief.

Trump sneered at Flake, saying that he couldn’t get reelected and that he is doing the right thing by sitting out the next election. Those words might be equally applicable to Trump in 2020. In the meantime, Republicans who spend time with Trump apple-polishing (or golfing — as Sens. Rand Paul and Lindsey O. Graham have done in an extraordinary display of self-debasement) might want to consider whether their strategy is working out. Not only is Trump’s approval rating in the dumpster, but also Fox’s generic congressional poll shows Republicans trailing Democrats by 15 points (35 percent to 50 percent). If that holds, it will be a blowout in 2018.

So if buttering up Trump gets elected Republicans no legislative results, a disastrous outlook for 2018 and utter contempt from many Americans, maybe it is time to try something new. They could rebuke Trump’s egregious rhetoric and conduct, ignore him, proceed on legislation and begin to exercise some oversight — just as the Constitution envisions a coequal branch of government behaving. Hey, even if it doesn’t work and they lose one or both houses anyway, at least they’d have some self-respect.

We can hope that Trump’s inconsistency stays consistent. He might yet prove to the nation to be his own worst enemy. And those negative ratings do not take into account Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller’s grand jury charges reported Friday. The new developments in the investigation can’t be good news for Trump, especially if the investigation lasts into 2018. Stay tuned.

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