Why some GOP voters just can’t quit Trump

President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, February 26, 2022.
UPI Photo

We humans are wired in such a way as to look out for our best interests. It’s how we survive.  But sometimes we go off the rails and do things that can cause us more harm than good. And yes, I’m thinking of the love and affection some Republicans still have for Donald Trump, despite all the harm he has done to them and the party.

You’d think that after losing the House during his presidency, and losing the presidency itself — and then before he formally left office, losing the Senate too — all that would be enough for Republicans to look out for their interests and simply ditch the guy. 

You’d think that after his needlessly reckless speech on Jan. 6, 2021, which arguably led to the riot at the Capitol, GOP voters would throw up their hands and say, “Enough!”

You might even think that his non-stop refusal to acknowledge that he lost the election in 2020, that it wasn’t rigged, would be the last straw.

But it hasn’t happened — not yet, anyway. Just a few weeks ago he was at it again, telling a cheering crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla.: “We did it twice and we’ll do it again,” yet another delusional claim that he won the 2020 election.  And then he added, “We’re going to be doing it again a third time.”

Who knows if he really means it, but one thing is certain: Trump can still draw a crowd. Here’s how Amy Walter put it in the Cook Political Report: “His rallies continue to attract thousands of devotees. Drive outside a major metro area and you will still see Trump flags and signs dotting the landscape. Among Republicans, Trump enjoys a 70 percent favorable rating.”

And what about Trump going forward? It’s one thing to get cheers from conservatives at CPAC, but what about Republicans in general? How do they feel about him making another run for the White House in 2024? A CBS/YouGov poll taken in January found that 76 percent of 2020 Trump voters either want him to run for president again in 2024 or to “fight to be put in office right now.”

So, what’s the fascination with Trump, even now that he’s been out of office for more than a year? Some of it, of course, is that a lot of GOP voters simply believe he’s better than anyone the Democrats have or will ever put up — and so, in a binary election, they say, “I’ll vote for him.”

That’s what Bill Barr, the former attorney general, recently told NBC News in an interview plugging his new book, “One Damn Thing After Another.”

“I certainly have made it clear I don’t think he should be our nominee, and I’m going to support somebody else for the nomination,” Barr said on the “Today” show. But “because I believe that the greatest threat to the country is the progressive agenda being pushed by the Democratic Party,” he said, “it’s inconceivable to me that I wouldn’t vote for the Republican nominee” — even if that nominee is Donald Trump.

But, Barr writes in his book, “When Trump is the issue, Republicans start the campaign in many swing states by writing off 10 percent of the electorate who otherwise lean Republican.”

Let’s review: Donald Trump can cost his party millions of votes from moderates and swing voters — a crucial bloc they need to win elections — and yet, he’s still the darling of most GOP voters.

So, why do so many Republican voters act and think in ways that are detrimental to their best interests? Maybe there’s more to it than simply politics. Maybe there’s a psychological aspect to the ongoing romance between Trump and his most committed acolytes, the ones who aren’t the least bit ambivalent about how much they adore him.

Think about it this way: We are humans, after all, not robots. We don’t always color inside the lines because coloring outside the lines makes us feel, well, independent. It’s a way to be rebellious. Voting for Trump is the political version of coloring outside the lines.

Donald Trump stands for something important to his most loyal followers, the ones who are truly committed to him. They may not believe, as he claims to believe, that he’s a “stable genius.”  They may not even believe that he’s stable. But they believe something important about him nonetheless: that he’s standing up to all those snooty liberal elites who condescendingly believe they’re better than the “hayseeds” who live in flyover country and eat at chain restaurants and fly the flag on the Fourth of July.

Never underestimate the power — or the raw satisfaction — of getting even, of settling the score with smug “sophisticates” who think they’re better than “ordinary” Americans. That’s why Donald Trump is so popular even now, even after all the harm he has done to his party, even though he, more than anyone else, may be responsible for the progressive agenda that President Biden is pursuing. Trump, after all, is why Biden is president.

Sure, some Republicans hold their nose and vote for him. But that’s not how the committed see him. They would gladly make room on Mt. Rushmore for Donald Trump’s face — and if you’re wondering, I mean that literally. Never mind that he’s a wrecking ball that has given his political foes one gift after another — the House, the Senate, the presidency. Trump loyalists stick by him. None of his abrasiveness matters to them. If anything, that’s another reason they like him.

The way they see it, supporting Donald Trump doesn’t go against their best interests; supporting him is fundamental to their best interests. He makes alienated Americans feel something very important to them — that they matter.

That’s why, if he decides to run in 2024, he’ll almost certainly get the GOP nomination. And if he loses, again, to some liberal Democrat, he can always claim the election was stolen, again.  He’ll have plenty of admirers who will gladly believe him, again.

As I say, don’t ever underestimate the power of getting even, the power of settling scores with anyone who thinks they’re better than you. That’s something the “stable genius” figured out a long time ago — and may again.  

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.

Tags Donald Trump Flyover country GOP voters Joe Biden liberal elites progressives trumpism

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