Overestimating the Appetite for Cruelty

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An article by Stanley Greenberg puts some flesh on the bones of my recent post on Trump’s genius at driving wedges—right through the Republican Party.

Mr. Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, divides Republican voters into five categories—and identifies two of these five categories as a super-category, the “Trump Base.” The remaining three he lumps together in another super-category, “Less Enthusiastic Republicans.” The terminology is awkward and unsatisfying, because majorities in each of the five categories tell pollsters that they are either “strong supporters” of Trump, or at least “somewhat supportive.”

You will benefit from reading Greenberg’s article for yourself, but here, I think, is the gist of it. In his terminology, 41 percent of Republican supporters comprise the “Trump Base.” (That’s Evangelicals, 26 percent, plus Tea Party voters, at 15 percent, adding up to 41 percent.)

Better than “Trump Base,” it would be more precise to call these people Trump Bullshit Lovers. They are folks whose souls deeply resonate to Trump’s racist, cultural, and intellectual resentments. It’s their heroin, and By God, they want more and more of it. When Trump turns up the bullshit volume, these folks turn up the Trump love. And, more significantly, they turn up their enthusiasm for voting.

Of all categories of voters, their enthusiasm for voting is the highest. These folks will definitely show up for the midterms. But Trump’s problems are, first, that there are not enough of them actually to win elections in most districts, and, two, that his bullshit not only energizes Democrats but also reduces the enthusiasm of the remaining Republican voters.

According to Greenberg, after the “Trump Base,” Democrats are the next most energized group of voters.

Lagging significantly behind Democrats in enthusiasm are the remaining 59 percent of Republican voters, comprised of “Catholic conservatives, “Conservative, nonreligious,” and “Moderate Republicans.” Majorities of each group express “support” for Trump, but their enthusiasm is flagging—and every time Trump does something outrageous, their voting enthusiasm suffers a further drop.

One can only imagine how the “Catholic conservatives” are reacting to the family separation policy.

Meanwhile, Paul Waldman asks, Has Trump Overestimated the Cruelty of His Own Supporters?

While most of us would not characterize Donald Trump as a particularly smart man, he has long possessed a kind of dark genius for locating and exploiting what is worst in people. As a businessman he harnessed people’s greed and envy to enrich himself, while as a politician he cultivated resentment, hatred, and fear. Few people realized that those malevolent forces could be so powerful they would overcome any hesitation voters might have about electing such an obviously corrupt con artist to the most powerful position on earth, but about that at least, he was right.

Yet today he’s testing the limits of the voters and Republican politicians who helped him become president. How much hypocrisy will the “family values” party tolerate? How much cruelty can they stomach? Do they really see immigrants, even children, as subhuman?

The reaction to this ongoing controversy suggests that as a group, conservatives may not be quite as sadistic as the president hoped they would be. It’s hard to find more than a few Republicans not in Trump’s direct employ who are willing to publicly defend this policy, even if most of them respond in that tone we’ve gotten used to, the one that says, “I’m deeply uncomfortable with this, but please don’t ask me if I’m going to do anything about it.”