With his core group’s firm support, Trump holds Republican Party hostage
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” Donald Trump boasted during his successful 2016 campaign president.
That claim may not hold for all who voted for him that year because many defected in 2020 — and in the 2022 midterms from his proteges — but it is true of his core base of his supporters.
Unshaken by the two impeachments, the criminal and civil cases against him and his mercurial temperament the 51 per cent of the Republican Party who make his base hold the party hostage.
For them, Trump is their champion hounded by the elite.
With Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the only one in the Republican roster of his challengers or likely challengers to break into double digits in the RealClear Politics (RCP) aggregation of polls, getting only 23 per cent Trump appears to have the first step of the presidential race — getting the party nomination — race locked up.
And if a challenger is able to win the party nomination against all odds, Trump is not above running as a third party candidate or an independent and dooming the Republican Party.
In 1992, a conservative businessman, Ross Perot, ran as an independent drawing 18.9 per cent of the politically conservative votes that could have gone to sitting president George Bush, the senior, leading to his defeat to Bill Clinton.
In the RCP polls aggregation, Trump and President Joe are running neck and neck in the 43 per cent range.
And this is where the challenge of increasing their lead lies for both, septuagenarian Trump with an unfavourability rating of 55 per cent and octogenarian Biden with 52.6 per cent.
Contrary to common perceptions that voters abandoned Trump wholesale, he actually increased his votes by over 11 million, from 62.98 million in 2016 to 74.22 million in 2020 but with bigger mobilisation, Biden outdid him by getting 81.28 million votes.
The big divide in US politics is between the college-educated elite and the rest, with some racial variations, even which is shrinking among some.
Both groups spew contempt at each other from their positions of being high up in an intellectual nirvana or a down-to-earth daily grind.
Even if it is ultimately manifested in economic status, their differences are based on social issues and their insecurities.
Of Biden’s voters, 61 per cent were college graduates, while Trump received only 37 per cent from this group, according to the think tank Pew Research.
The core Trump supporters, known derisively as the “MAGA Crowd” for their display of red “Make America Great Again” hats and signs, long for a return to a past when well-paying manufacturing jobs hadn’t moved to China and elsewhere, illegal immigration wasn’t as rampant, and identity politics were so overwhelming.
Fueling their angst is the dominant, elite section of the Democratic Party that sets the social agenda.
According to data cited by the Manhattan Institute, the Democratic Party’s majority is made of 27.3 per cent college-educated Whites and 32.8 per cent non-Whites who are not college graduates.
Issues like allowing males who claim to be transgender females to use girls’ bathrooms in schools or compete in girls’ sports teams, schools excluding parents on their children’s transition, teaching about transsexuality to primary school children or allowing sex change treatment for minors are red flags for them — as well as others, which Republicans hope to capitalise on.
And then there are other education issues like the teaching of history and civics that presents the US as a totally racist nation, and introducing concepts of race equity into maths and science lessons.
There is also a distrust of government among the core Trump supporters, which works against their own interest as when they oppose Obamacare, the affordable — and compulsory — health insurance programme, or attempts to rebalance the tax system.
Add to this mix the distrust of the mainstream media, and there emerges a ready set of followers who believe that Trump was cheated out of an election victory in 2020 and is now hounded to prevent a return in 2024.
Even though the majority of Trump’s supporters are White, worryingly for the Democrats, he has made headway among Latinos.
Between 2016 and 2020, Trump increased his support among Latino voters by about 10 per cent to 28 per cent, according to Pew.
A steady, key group for Trump are White Evangelical Protestant Christians — a euphemism for fundamentalists — who in many cases fit seamlessly with the “MAGA crowd”.
Despite his moral flaws, Pew reported that 84 per cent of them supported him in 2020; this was solely based on his social agenda, especially on abortion.
The outcome of the 2024 election will be decided by which party mobilises more effectively and if the Democrats can keep the 15.85 million more voters they rallied in 2020 than in 2016.
Many of them were suburban voters, especially women, and young people.
One social issue that seemed to have worked for Democrats in some key state-wide races in 2016 is the issue of abortion, where Trump and his core are staunchly against it, while Democrats support abortion rights.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling overturning an earlier decision and making the legalisation of abortion a state matter and it is now banned in 14 states dominated by Republicans but according to a poll by Pew Research last year, 61 per centof Americans are against a ban on abortions, while only 37 per cent want a ban.
Besides the antics of Trump in claiming he won in 2020, his supporters’ attack on Congress on January 2021, the legal entanglements and his unhinged rhetoric, the abortion issue creates unease for many Republicans who fear it could turn off moderates, both within the party and among independents.
Many of Trump’s hand-picked proxies lost the 2022 midterm elections costing Republicans the control of the Senate.
Several Republican billionaire mega-donors have said that they would not finance Trump’s campaign.
DeSantis, the leading challenger for the Republican nomination but who has not announced his run, is ideologically close to Trump but without his baggage and a strong showing in the 2022 election.
Yet, his ideology may turn off some moderates.
Nikki Haley, the first Indian American to serve on the US cabinet and former South Carolina governor, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who have announced their candidacy, have taken a moderate stance on social issues and suggested limited restrictions on abortion.
But they are in the low single digits in party polls.
The Democrat’s preferred Republican candidate is Trump, whom they vehemently hate but think he would be the easiest for Biden to defeat.
Given the low ratings for Biden, his age and his stumbles a less encumbered Republican could be a stronger challenger.
The pro-Democrat media is waging a campaign against DeSantis stop his ascent.
Ultimately, it may come down to what is colloquially called a “clothespin election” the imagery of voters in the primaries and in the general election putting a clothespin on their nose to keep out the stench as they vote for a candidate they find odious, but think is lesser of the two evils or because of party loyalty.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at @arulouis)