What would it take for Trump’s base to abandon him? With the parade of daily outrages that accompany the Trump Presidency (see this running list from Mother Jones to keep up) one has to wonder, how can anyone support this? It seems that no matter the volume of stupid and cruel things he does and says some people are still on board. Of course it is important to remember that most people do not support Trump. His approval rating is in the toilet and many people question his legitimacy as President. There is also some evidence that there are some small cracks opening in his, as of this point, enthusiastic base of supporters. The New York Times recently ran another one of its many Trump voter “anthropology” pieces where an ernest reporter descends into the hinterland (in this case Terre Haute, IN) to empathize with the people that brought us this disaster of a President. This piece, however, finds some dissatisfaction with the President in Trumpland:
“‘Winning? I don’t get a sense that we are winning,’ said Bart Colwell, the president of the Terre Haute Savings Bank, who described himself as a Republican but declined to say whom he voted for in November. ‘I think his tone is pretty negative. His tone would not be a tone that most people in leadership would use.’”
“Even as many voters here say they like Mr. Trump’s policies on tax cuts and reducing the size of government, the relentlessly combative approach that served him well during the campaign has become a source of deep discontent.”
“‘He can’t keep his mouth shut,’ said Jim Hunter, an insurance agent who voted for Mr. Trump. ‘He is berating his own party. He needs every Republican vote on taxes. I wish that Twitter stuff would all just stop. I don’t even like to see him on TV.’ He added, ‘I would have serious reservations about voting for him again.'”
Is there discontent in Trumpland? Maybe for some, but not for most. As the article points out those who appear to be souring on Trump were a minority of his base to begin with:
“For Mr. Trump, the challenge in a place like Vigo is not to solidify his base, which remains strongly behind him, but rather to keep the support of swing voters and Republicans who were reluctant to back him. National polls have found that Trump voters who had supported Mr. Obama in previous elections have now soured on the president at higher rates than other Trump voters.”
I think we can view Trump’s base as comprised of two groups: Those who supported him for instrumental reasons (appointing conservative Supreme Court judges, tax cuts, repealing Obamacare, etc) and those who support him for identity or relational reasons (“he speaks for us”). The former group is comprised mostly of GOP elites while the latter is mostly comprised of the activist rank and file. These two groups map onto two models of the the psychology of legitimacy – the resource model and the relational model The resource model of legitimacy argues that people react to instrumental aspects of their experiences with authorities. One way this manifests itself is people tend to view authorities as more legitimate if those authorities deliver outcomes the people expected them to deliver (in the case of Trump it would be specific policies). The relational model on the other hand argues that people draw information about their identities from their group memberships. In the context of those group identities, how an authority treats someone, or the group as a whole, signals status information about that individual (or group). If the authority’s treatment is positive that increases the status of the individual and the group they belong to. In other words, the authority’s treatment made them feel good about themselves.
The part of Trump’s base that supports him for instrumental reasons may start breaking (as has already happened) if they feel he is not delivering on what they want, or they just cannot take anymore of his stupid shit. They are only a minority part of his base, however. The majority of Trump supporter – the activist rank and file – will probably never break as long as Trump continues to give them what they want, which is status recognition of their group. When Trump attacks – Democrats, establishment Republicans, foreign leaders, anti-White Supremacy protesters, African-American NFL players, minority Gold Star families – it signals to his relational base that he is with them. As long as he keeps that up they will be by his side.