Why Republicans Still Support Trump

The president has been electoral disaster for Republicans and still they stick by him.

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump answers questions from reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, July 18 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Donald Trump has been an electoral disaster for America’s Republican Party.

  • Republicans had a comfortable majority of 241 seats in the House of Representatives in 2016 against 194 for Democrats. Now they are in the minority with 197 to 233 seats.
  • Republicans held 33 of the nation’s governorships against sixteen for Democrats. Now they have 26 against 24 for Democrats.
  • Republicans held 57 percent of seats in state legislatures against 42 percent for Democrats. Now it’s 52-47 percent.
  • Republicans had a majority in 32 state legislatures against fourteen for Democrats. Now it’s thirty against nineteen.
  • Republicans had total control in 24 states against seven for Democrats. Now it’s 22 against fourteen.
  • Trump trails his Democratic rivals Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in nearly all presidential election polls. (Trump does best against Pete Buttigieg.)
  • Trump’s approval rating has never been above 50 percent.

Trump voters

Timothy P. Carney argues the reason Republicans have lost so much is simple:

Trump has made Trump voters, but not Republicans, out of working-class independents and Democrats, and he has made Democratic voters out of independents and Republicans. Trump has also motivated Democrats to unprecedented levels.

Trump may be able to eke out another Electoral College win in 2020, and Republicans may be able to hold on to the Senate, but the trend does not bode well for them in the long term.

So why do they stick by Trump?

Last best hope

Ezra Klein, co-founder of the left-wing news website Vox, believes it’s because American conservatives fear they are losing the culture war to the secular left and see Trump as their last best hope.

There is something to this. Democrats are what journalist Ronald Brownstein has described as a “coalition of transformation”: minorities, millennials, college-educated and secular whites, mostly living in the cities, who are unhappy with the cultural and economic status quo.

Republicans, who have become even whiter, older and more rural under Trump, are uncomfortable with the cultural and economic forces that are reshaping American life. Brownstein calls theirs a “coalition of restoration”.

Neither side believes it is winning, but only Republicans believe time is not on their side. If supporting Trump is the only way to keep the liberals at bay, so be it.

Trump won’t retire

Jonathan V. Last of the center-right anti-Trump website The Bulwark argues Republican politicians have other reasons to support Trump publicly, even if they have their doubts in private:

  • The casualties of last year’s midterm elections were precisely those centrist Republicans who were most likely to rebel against Trump.
  • Trump spends far more time attacking fellow Republicans he perceives to be disloyal than he does Democrats, which could threaten those Republicans’ reelections.
  • Trump won’t retire. Even if he loses in 2020 or steps down in 2024, he will almost certainly continue to involve himself in national politics. “If you’re a Republican with future political ambitions … you know that voting against Trump now means that he will come after you.”
  • One way for Trump to stay relevant could be elevating his daughter, Ivanka, or his eldest son, Don Jr, to the presidency. “And if you think Trump will retire to the countryside to let his children make their own way in the world, then you have not paid any attention, at all, to the history of this family.”