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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Deplorables run the show

by digby

I wrote about the new Pew Poll for Salon today:

A couple of days ago, Salon's Bob Cesca made the point that the tie that binds Trump to his followers is his eagerness to provoke liberals. He used this tweet from a Fox News analyst and Townhall.com writer to illustrate the case:

Personally, I thought the people wearing t-shirts like these, which are still selling briskly on Amazon, express this sentiment even better.

Despite the fact that these are obviously mature individuals, like Donald Trump they seem to revel in juvenile taunts against people they don't like. And they don't seem to like a lot of people.

So far, that base of Trump champions is holding fast in the opinion polls. The latest Pew Poll was released on Tuesday and it has him at a 36 percent approval rating, which tracks with most of the other polling, including Gallup, which has had him between 35 percent and 40 percent for most of his term.  It's when you dig into the details of the Pew Poll that it becomes more interesting.

This particular poll surveyed how people describe the Trump presidency. The poll asked Republicans whether they agreed with Trump on the issues and  it breaks down fairly predictably on partisan lines. 69 percent of Republicans agree with his positions which isn't a great number for a president in his first year but it's still a majority. Unsurprisingly, 94 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners  disagree. All in all 15 percent agree with Trump on all or nearly all issues, 18 percent agree with him on many issues 21 percent agree on a few issues and 45 percent don't agree with him on issues at all.

But Pew also asked respondents what they think of Trump's conduct in office. Again, most Democrats and Democratic leaners are appalled, as one might expect. On this, Republicans are more divided. 19 percent don't like his conduct while 46 percent say they have mixed feelings. But 34 percent like the way he conducts himself as president.

In fact, more Republicans either accept or embrace his aberrant presidential conduct than approve of his positions on policy. And the kicker is that when asked what people liked most about Trump's presidency, the ones who approve of his performance actually cite his personality and conduct four times more often than his policies. In other words, those who like him, like him because of his unseemly, unpresidential behavior not in spite of it.

This group represents about a third of the Republican party, the same third that flocked to him in the primaries and enabled his win in the crowed field that split the other two thirds almost to the very end. These are older, conservative, white people for the most part who believe he should not listen to other Republicans and should follow his own instincts.

These are the people who some might refer to as "a basket of deplorables." They like his coarse personality which means they approve of the fact that he treats women like his personal playthings. They enjoy it when he expresses sympathy for Nazis and Neo-confederate white supremacists. They laugh when he declares his love for torturing terrorist suspects and letting the police rough up suspects and mandating the death penalty. His odious birtherism was one of his greatest selling points.

This cohort of the Republican party didn't vote for Trump because of his policy on trade or his promise to withdraw from NATO if the other countries didn't pay up. They voted for him because he said out loud what they are thinking. Being a petty, sophomoric, crude bully is what they like in a leader.

Still, according to the Pew Poll, while these people are endlessly fascinating to the press they only comprise 16 percent of the population. That's tens of millions of people, which is somewhat disturbing, but it doesn't add up to a majority, not by a long shot. So surely the other 65 percent of the party that finds Trump's personality and conduct to be unseemly would not want to vote for congressional and Senate candidates who align themselves with him, right?

Unfortunately, according to this Vanity Fair article by David M. Drucker the GOP consultant class doesn't think so. They are among the 65 percent who think the president is a ghastly embarrassment to their party but that won't stop them from pushing their candidates to embrace him and his style of politics:
[I]n meeting after meeting, Republican consultants have had one consistent message for clients and prospective clients running for office in 2018. It’s a message they tell me will not change, even after the avalanche of criticism directed at Trump by fellow Republicans for his failure to immediately condemn the racists who gathered in Charlottesville and his decision to conflate them with counter-protesters. “Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country. Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is,” said one Republican strategist who, like most of the nearly two dozen I interviewed for this story, requested anonymity in order to speak candidly and protect their clients. “It would be malpractice not to advise clients to attach themselves to that popularity.”
Those over 50, white, non-college educated voters are the GOP primary voters who come out in mid-term elections. They're the people who stormed the castle in 2010 and 2014 to stack the congress with far right officials. And they scare the hell out of the GOP establishment which, despite years of flag waving and accusing liberals of lack of patriotism, they are apparently willing to do whatever it takes to perpetuate the toxic politics of the man they all know is "a bad guy."

That means that the 16 percent of people whose reason for political participation is to tell others "Fuck your feelings" are basically in charge of one of America's two parties.