It’s All About That Base

Today, Presidential Politics for America covers: 

  • President Trump’s continued support from his voters
  • His controversial decision on transgender American soldiers
  • His perpetual war with the media and Hillary Clinton
  • The decision to replace his Chief of Staff
  • The potential effects of his ongoing struggles as POTUS

Brace yourself, liberals: 88 percent of President Trump’s voters would vote for him again, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. That’s up six points since May.

Before you exhale a three-letter acronym (WTF, LOL, SMH) or four-letter curse word (parenthetical examples have been removed by editors), remember that I addressed this before. In May, when he maintained Republican support during what most of the media framed as a rough stretch, I answered a question many apoplectic Democrats ask when they see such a statistic: How is that possible?! I offered that he was trying to do things Republicans had wanted to do for years: deport illegal immigrants, build a wall, repeal and replace Obamacare, curb the power of Supreme Court activists, redirect federal spending from social programs to defense, and protect Americans from terrorists with the travel ban. Add to that a combative relationship with the liberal media, and it was no surprise, at least to me, that Republican voters stood by their man.

President Trump’s political calculus (okay, his political geometry… okay, his political algebra… okay, his political counting pennies) is that an impassioned Republican base got him elected once, and an impassioned Republican base can do it again. (We don’t know if he’s wrong yet, and anyone who claims to know learned nothing from 2016.) With one glaring exception — the head-scratching passive-aggressiveness toward his “beleaguered” Attorney General/conservative dreamboat Jeff Sessions — Trump’s moves can usually be explained by his compulsion to keep his base happy and crowds fawning.

Last week’s base-pleasing move — banning the transgender community from the military — is actually a telling microcosm of his presidency. Consider:

  • It’s in line with the Republican base’s desires, since it saves money, promotes military conformity, and resists a progressive movement.
  • Liberals are freaking out, which conservatives love more than just about anything.
  • It shows the President as a decisive commander-in-chief who frustrates the media — which conservatives also love. Trump offered no explanation and did not make himself available to questions. His newly minted question-dodger Press Secretary Sarah Sanders only told us, repeatedly, “It was a military decision.”
  • He tweeted — TWEETED! — this decision. Advance notice or instructions were not given to the thousands of transgender members of the military, nor, apparently, the Joint Chiefs and the rest of the Defense Department. This roll-out contradicts Trump’s claim that his decision came on the heels of a discussion with “his” generals and military experts. It was not a fleshed out, thought-through decision, which sums up the President’s instinctual and haphazard approach to politics.
  • Trump’s audacious decision came on the 69th anniversary of President Truman desegregating the military despite the “disruption” it might cause, an initiative that history tells us was good for America, the military, and civil rights. In other words, not only his decision but the timing of his decision’s unveiling is right in line with the President having little respect for, or knowledge of, history. Just ask Frederick Douglass, who has done an amazing job with Andrew Jackson regarding the Civil War and Napoleon.

Politically speaking only, the ban, as ABC reports, is a “nod to Christian conservatives.” Sprawled across rural areas and the Middle American heartland, they got him elected and have badly needed front-line reinforcements in the culture wars, particularly the LGBTQ advancements on the battlefields of marriage, bathrooms, and now military cohesion. It is no coincidence that this ban came on the same day that the President’s caps lock key broke before tweeting, “IN AMERICA WE DON’T WORSHIP GOVERNMENT – WE WORSHIP GOD!” Dare I remind him we don’t have to worship anything. It’s in the very first amendment of our Constitution.

It is, quite clearly, all about that Republican base. He’s taken his show on the road in campaign-like rallies that channel similar emotion from his candidate days. In his quest to keep their support, President Trump fights with those that base hates most — the media, disloyal members of Congress, and Hillary Clinton. His diatribe against the Fake News media has been unrelenting. Recall that 88 percent of his voters stand by him; that exact percentage of Trump voters also agree that the press is “the enemy of the American people.” The numbers are identical, but not coincidental. Meanwhile, the obsession with Clinton is also instructive here; if any of his followers are losing enthusiasm, reminding them of November’s alternative is his best bet to re-enthuse. No matter how bad he is, she would have been worse.

Are all these rivalries distracting and counterproductive? I say yes. Has it helped reform health care, simplify the tax code, and raise wages? I say no. But his supporters seem to love it nonetheless.

It should be pointed out that the President and the conservative media have been effective counter-programmers against their liberal counterparts. His tweets have long assembled his own narrative in his own words, like an autobiography typed out before our eyes. His allies at Fox, Breitbart, Infowars, and elsewhere either follow his lead to the point where they resemble state television, or they offer advice to a reactive President who has a voracious appetite for their content. Importantly, just like liberals who wouldn’t dare turn on the “propaganda” of Fox News to hear what the other side has to say, Americans who rely on one or more of these pro-Trump websites are mostly oblivious to the mainstream media’s negative reporting, save how the conservative media frames it.

Still, one must wonder how much longer the 88 percent can hang on, especially with a perfect vice-president waiting in the wings. So far, it’s understandable that many of the President’s supporters would hesitate to admit they were wrong in their evaluation of him as someone who could come in, drain the swamp, and get something done. Their hesitancy, however, will be more transient than the stubbornness of a President who is in over his head and has shown little desire in learning how to swim.

In other words, it was clear he needed to get his White House in order, which led to the replacement of Reince Priebus as his chief of staff. That should please a base that considered Priebus a bit too insider for Trump’s movement, and it’s an acknowledgement that a “reset” was necessary. The health care drama has been a debacle, and the President hasn’t worked particularly hard educating himself on the issue, an effort which could have gone, and still could go, a long way toward using the bully pulpit to earn reform rather than his current strategy of complaining, insulting, and ultimately alienating dissenters. Meanwhile, tax reform, which by some accounts was next on the legislative docket, became difficult as a result of the health care bill’s failure. Recently christened Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci had a wildly unprofessional opening week while redirecting his coup d’etat from Sean Spicer to Priebus before getting ousted himself by Priebus’s replacement. And now conservatives have to watch this Trump-Sessions rift like kids watching one parent throw dinner plates at the other. These problems can lead to the President shedding more numbers from his base or, short of that, a softening of the kind of enthusiasm that delivered victory last November. That development, of course, also explains the hurried transgender ban.

If his support among the base continues to collapse and a re-election defeat is certain, PPFA predicts there will be irresistible pressure on Trump, who will be sick of the job anyway, to stay a one-term president and move aside for a presidential campaign from loyal Vice-President Pence. The Vice-President has remained a vocal advocate of the President (keeping him popular with Trump supporters) while also boasting all the conservative bonafides the base could want without ever embarrassing the country in the way he talks, tweets, or provokes (keeping him popular with anti-Trump Republicans).

The only way for Trump to survive, then, is to keep his conservative supporters happy. We can therefore expect more for liberals to hate in the coming weeks and months, because it is, indeed, all about that base.

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5 thoughts on “It’s All About That Base

  1. I already miss the Mooch.

    Even if 5% of Trump voters abstain from voting for him, wouldn’t that be devastating for him in 2020? I briefly looked at the numbers, which you probably have memorized, and it is truly stunning how he won by the skin of his teeth (if I were a more conspiratorial type, I would think it was Jared and the Russians’ doing):

    Wisconsin: 0.8% Trump margin of V (10 EV)
    Pennsylvania: 0.7% moV (20 EV)
    Michigan: 0.3% moV (18 EV)
    Florida: 1.2% moV (29 EV)

    5% of his base turns on him? All other things equal, could that not lead to
    Trump: 229
    Dem Challenger: 309
    in 2020?

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  2. It’s a great point. I did mention those numbers a few posts ago “There’s an old Confucian proverb: what a difference 77,000 well-placed votes can make.”: https://presidentialpoliticsblog.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/checking-in-with-the-democrats/

    If Trump only wins 88 percent of his voters from last time while picking up no one new, he would indeed lose the election. However, I don’t think losing some supporters early in a presidency is unusual. It happened to Obama. Usually, almost all of those people come home by election time. We’ll see if that pattern holds.

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  3. I’m curious about your thoughts on the following:

    I’ve felt that what the poles got wrong in November was simple….the hidden racism that still lingers from Trumps old glory days and his ability to tap into that hatred and anger. With a near political split in our nation he only needed that fringe group to come out in numbers and it appears they did (Charlottesville). It seems his campaign was aimed at a balance of traditional conservative base with enough of an effort to use this remboldened (through his doing) hatred to win the Presidency….polls won’t show quiet racism.
    Thoughts?

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  4. Hi, Joe. It’s a theory. I personally don’t think the re-emboldened hate constituency was a large part of his victory. It was a change election and he campaigned in the right states to secure the win.

    That being said, the numbers shared above by FoodinMexico show that it was close enough in those states that it wouldn’t take a sizable hate fringe to make the difference.

    Keep in mind the conservative counterargument, though: people hate on both sides, so it might just balance out.

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