In the wake of Donald Trump’s disastrous July 16 meeting with Vladimir Putin, many Democrats thought, “At last Republicans will open their eyes and see Trump as a traitor and charlatan.” But as the days passed, it became clear that Trump supporters weren’t going to let a little thing — such as collaboration with Russia — dilute their adoration for the Donald. Republican inflexibility left Democrats scratching their heads, wondering what it will take to shake up the relationship between Trump and his base. The answer is hiding in plain sight.
After the Putin meeting, and Trump’s epic waffle about whether or not the Russians had interfered with the 2016 election, Democrats expected Trump’s approval rating to go down. Surprisingly, it hasn’t. (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ )
The latest Wall Street Journal (http://www.newser.com/story/262328/trumps-approval-among-republicans-is-unusually-high.html ) poll indicates that Republican approval for Trump is at 88 percent. (Meanwhile, among independents, Trump approval declined to 36 percent — among Democrats it’s 8 percent.) While only 53 percent of Republicans approved of his handling of Putin and Russia, the vast majority supports him overall. Why?
To understand the Republican paradox — they trust Trump to defend the U.S.A. — we have to dive deep into GOP Demographics. Pew Research, and other pollsters, tell us that Republicans are overwhelmingly white (non Hispanic), male (although a surprising number are female — mostly uneducated), rural, and “Christian.”
Last September, the Public Religion Research Institute (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/09/06/the-stark-racial-and-religious-divide-between-democrats-and-republicans-in-one-chart/?) reported: “Roughly three-quarters (73%) of the Republican Party is white Christian… 35 percent are white evangelical Christians, 18 percent are white members of other Protestant denominations, and 16 percent are white Catholics.”
Gallup says Republicans are 27 percent of the electorate, Democrats are 29 percent, and the remaining 43 percent are (technically) Independents. Other pollsters suggest there are fewer Independents, explaining that many poll respondents don’t want to share their Party affiliation with poll takers. Pew Research (http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/24/political-typology-reveals-deep-fissures-on-the-right-and-left/) says that when you include leaners, among registered voters there are 45 percent Republicans and 55 percent Democrats.
According to Pew, Trump’s “base” consists of two groups — “Core Conservatives” and “Country-First Conservatives” — that support Donald for slightly different reasons.
“Core Conservatives” (15 percent of registered voters) are: “about a third (31%) of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents… This financially comfortable, male-dominated group overwhelmingly supports smaller government, lower corporate tax rates and believes in the fairness of the nation’s economic system.” That is to say, Core Conservatives’ basic issue is economics. They want lower taxes and fewer regulations; they want to maintain the status quo.
Core Conservative support Trump because he’s giving them what they want.
In contrast, “Country-First Conservatives” (7 percent of registered voters) are about one-sixth of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents. They are, “… unhappy with the nation’s course, highly critical of immigrants and deeply wary of U.S. global involvement. Nearly two-thirds of Country-First Conservatives (64%)… say that ‘if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.'” Country-First Conservatives’ basic issue is immigration and (behind the curtains) race. They believe that people-of-color threaten their way of life.
Country-First Conservative support Trump because he’s giving them what they want: a commitment to a white Christian nation.
Pew observed that white evangelical Christians constitute 34 percent of Core Conservatives and 43 percent of Country-First Conservatives — about 8 percent of of registered voters. (Pew reports that 77 percent of white non-Hispanic evangelical protestant voters identify as Republicans, as do 54 percent of white non-hispanic Catholic voters.)
Whatever their percentage in the Republican Party, it’s clear that white non-Hispanic Christians are a powerful force in Trump’s base. And they are single-minded; they want a theocracy.
Trump has catered to his Core Conservative and Country-First Conservative base. He’s given the former tax cuts and business-first regulations; and he’s given the latter a series of actions — draconian immigration enforcement, support for “religious liberty,” and ultra-conservative judges (such as Brett Kavanaugh) — that indicate Donald’s on their side. And so Trump’s base sticks with him despite damming revelations from the Mueller probe or evidence of Trump’s collaboration with Putin.
From an ethical standpoint, it’s clear that Trump’s base, en masse, has adopted the morality that the ends justify the means. That’s not a surprise for the portion of the Republican Party that is non-Christian — roughly 20 percent. We can safely assume that these are Core Conservatives whose moral code is defined exclusively by Capitalism: dog eat dog, triumph of the fittest, winner take all, etcetera. (They subscribe to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.)
The ethical problem lies with the 75 percent of the Republican Party that identifies as Christian. For them to say they support Trump because he’s going to promote a Christian nation, or he’s going to put people-of-color in their place, or he’s going to take away a women’s right to make her own medical decisions, means that they believe the ends justify the means. And that’s not Christian ethics. The Trump “Christians” are not following the ethical teachings of Jesus. (https://www.npr.org/2017/12/03/568206452/evangelical-leaders-say-christians-who-support-trump-face-an-ethical-challenge )
What will it take to shake up the relationship between Trump and his “Christian” base? Have them read the New Testament and consider whether they are actually practicing the ethics of Jesus. It looks like a lot of Trump’s supporters are actually faux Christians. Just like Donald.