One of the most persistent myths in politics is that Trump is an aberration for the Republican party. According to this theory, most Republicans — particularly the Republican establishment — quietly oppose Trump's racism, his attacks on the free press, his embrace of paranoid conspiracy theories, and his brutal treatment of migrant children.
No one exemplifies the Republican establishment more than the last Republican administration — President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. If the Republican establishment secretly reviles Trump, then how do you explain this?
Former vice president Richard B. Cheney and his daughter, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), are to appear at a lunch fundraiser Monday in support of President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee, according to an invitation to the event.
While Cheney, an architect of the Iraq War, has "privately" expressed skepticism about Trump's more isolationist foreign policy, that isn't stopping him from supporting Trump's reelection campaign.
The Cheney fundraiser underscores what really matters to the GOP: tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. On that front, Trump has delivered. To the Republican party, nothing else really matters.
Republicans have a problem, and Trump is the solution
Since the Reagan administration, Republicans have cultivated an economic system that benefits the very rich. Everyone else is treading water. Democratic administrations have not been able to do much to alter those fundamental dynamics.
Here is a chart on cumulative income growth since 1979 from the Economic Policy Institute.
Republican leaders have a big political problem, however. The core economic policies they support — tax cuts for the corporations and the wealthy — are very unpopular.
An April survey found only 36% of Americans support Trump's 2017 tax cuts. The same survey found that 82% of Americans believe corporations do not pay their fair share in taxes, and 80% of Americans believe that wealthy people do not pay their fair share. Overall, 63% of Americans, including 40% of Republicans, believe the U.S. economic system "unfairly favors the powerful."
Republicans will not win if they run on their actual economic agenda. They need something else to stitch together a winning coalition.
Trump provides a solution. He rallies support by inflaming grievances against immigrants, the media, Muslims, and African-Americans. Many Americans are struggling and are eager to find someone or something to blame. Trump gives them a lot of options.
Republicans in Congress endorse Trump
If Republicans in Congress opposed Trump's policies or his tactics, they could express that with their votes. This has not happened.
In July, Trump demanded several Democratic Congresswomen of color "go back" to "the crime-infested places from which they came." It was an extraordinary racist attack on four elected representatives and U.S. citizens. A few days later, only four Republicans in Congress voted to condemn his remarks.
In other words, 98% of Republicans in the House of Representatives effectively endorsed Trump's racist diatribe against their colleagues.
Republican voters love Trump
During the 2016 election, there was a lot of talk of "Never Trump" Republicans. These were Republicans who, on principle, could never support Trump. These Republicans, however, do not exist in significant numbers.
Trump, at this point in his presidency, is about 10 points more popular among members of his own party than Obama, Clinton, and Reagan. Nothing Trump has said or done in 936 days in office has significantly diminished his support among Republicans.
Trump has a primary challenger: Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld. "I will not sit quietly on the sidelines any longer while our President praises despotic leaders, insults democratic allies, unravels arms control agreements and rails against the rule of law," Weld said in February, announcing his candidacy.
A recent poll showed Trump beating Weld 90% to 5%.
Biden embraces the myth of the anti-Trump Republican
Speaking at a fundraiser on Saturday night, former Vice President Joe Biden, the early leader in the Democratic primary, said there are "an awful lot of really good Republicans" in Congress. But Biden has said that Trump is "a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced the political strategy of hate, racism, and division."
If there are so many "good" Republicans in Congress, why haven't they done anything to oppose Trump?
According to Biden, Republican members of Congress want to take a stand against Trump but are too "intimidated" to do so.
There’s an awful lot of really good Republicans out there. I get in trouble for saying that with Democrats, but the truth of the matter is, every time we ever got in trouble with our administration, remember who got sent up to Capitol Hill to fix it? Me. Because they know I respect the other team. They’re decent people. They ran because they care about things, but they’re intimidated right now.
How does Biden know this? He does not elaborate. Believing Biden requires ignoring the conduct of virtually every Republican elected official since Trump won the nomination in 2016.
His view of the Republican caucus is also ahistorical. His forays to Capitol Hill to speak with Republicans were seldom able to "fix" the Obama administration's problems. For example, in 2016, Biden was dispatched to Capitol Hill to convince Republicans to hold a vote on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. "Vice President Joe Biden will also be on the Hill Thursday to help turn up the pressure on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell," the AP reported.
Garland never received a hearing, much less a vote.
The nature of the Republican party's relationship with Trump is an important factor for Democrats working on defeating him. Biden's view is that Trump is an anomaly. He believes that Democrats can move past the Trump era first by appealing to disaffected Trump voters and then by working with Republican members of Congress to pass meaningful legislation.
This is, without a doubt, a particularly ugly time in American politics. It's tempting to pin the political climate on Trump because he won't be in office forever. But it's also overly simplistic. Trump relies on his broad support from Republican officials and voters. Seeking to end the Trump era by appealing to the same people who have empowered him for three years is a risky proposition.
Defeating Trump while taking his near-universal support from Republicans seriously is difficult work. It will probably require motivating people who are traditionally unlikely to vote to head to the polls. Defeating Trumpism is even more of a challenge. It will involve improving the underlying economic conditions that make a broad swath of the electorate vulnerable to Trump-like demagoguery. But having a clear-eyed view of the problem is more likely to be successful than wishful thinking.
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