Republicans Stick with Trump Through Scandals. Why?

The president is unpopular. Republicans are down in the polls. Why do they stick together?

Republican officials, including House speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence, speak with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 20, 2017
Republican officials, including House speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence, speak with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 20, 2017 (White House/Benjamin Applebaum)

Jonah Goldberg warns Republicans that all they accomplish by rushing to the president’s defense whenever he says or does something indefensible is convince more Americans that “Trumpism” isn’t confined to Donald Trump.

That damage won’t be erased by another record stock-market closing or an uptick in the GDP numbers. It will outlive The Trump Show for generations.

And yet.

Scandals

It’s been almost a month since I last wrote about Trump. Since then we’ve had the revelations from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which portrays Trump as a halfwit and the White House in constant turmoil.

We’ve heard Trump complain that too many immigrants are coming to the United States from “shithole” countries in Africa and the Caribbean.

Those racist comments overshadowed a report in The Wall Street Journal that Trump’s lawyer paid off a porn actress in 2016 to keep quiet about an affair.

During any other presidency, this would have been a major scandal. In the Trump era, it barely registers.

There have been more provocations of North Korea, more admonishments of European allies (this time related to the Iran nuclear deal), more revelations of Russian support for Trump’s presidential campaign and more administration defections (most recently the ambassador to Panama) while dozens of top-level positions remain unfilled.

Republicans are down in the polls. There are good reasons to expect Democrats will take back at least one chamber of Congress, maybe two, in November’s midterm elections. Dozens of Republican lawmakers are not even running for reelection.

But only a couple — Jeff Flake of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee — have publicly chastised the president for his behavior and his policies. By far most claim to support him.

Promises

One justification may be that, as Axios reports, Trump has kept most of his campaign promises:

  • Tax cuts
  • Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
  • A travel ban for Muslim countries
  • Environmental deregulation
  • Repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate
  • Defeating the self-proclaimed Islamic State
  • A conservative Supreme Court justice

But Trump can’t take all the credit.

  • The heavy lifting (tax cuts, repealing the Obamacare mandate, appointing Neil Gorsuch) was done by Republicans in Congress.
  • Defeating ISIS owes more to Barack Obama’s strategy.
  • Withdrawing from TPP and discriminatory immigration policies contradict traditional Republican beliefs.

Afraid

The more likely reason Republicans aren’t speaking out is that they fear losing a fight with Trump.

David A. Hopkins, a political scientist, has pointed out:

  1. Trump’s approval rating is sinking, but Congress is even less popular.
  2. Aggressive pro-Trump outlets, like Breitbart and talk radio, are no match for critical publications, like National Review. Fox News and The Wall Street Journal have switched from never- to pro-Trump.
  3. The president never hesitates to berate his opponents, nor does he feel restrained by the facts.
  4. Trump is tapping into suspicions long held on the right that Washington corrupts even the most purist of Republicans.

Those four factors give Republicans little incentive to criticize their leader.