Trump’s Base of Supporters Clearly Doesn’t Care That He’s Already Broken Campaign Promises
It is fascinating to see everyone furiously attempt to read the tea leaves to try figure out what is inside the mysterious early Christmas present (that over half of American voters didn’t want) which we were all given last Tuesday. I think we have it narrowed down to Donald Trump as president will be most like… Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barack Obama, Jessie Ventura, or Adolf Hitler.
Regardless, it will be so exciting to find out what we got in exchange for debasing our entire political process for at least the next generation!
Many are trying to figure out if the appointment of Breitbart’s “Alt-Right” leader Steve Bannon (with whom I have had dinner years ago and by whom I was remarkably unimpressed) as Trump’s chief strategist is a way to simply placate his base, or a sign that we really are in for massive/scary change in this country. While pondering this unbreakable riddle, it may be helpful to be reminded of one of the very few political certainties of this extraordinarily uncertain time: Trump’s primary supporters are with him at least until they die.
Trump himself infamously bragged/mocked early in the primary campaign that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any support. At the time I thought that was, at best, classic Trump hyperbole. However, after spending way too much time over the past year “conversing” with Trump fans on social media and via my radio show, I am more convinced than ever that Trump was effectively correct, especially now that he has shocked the world and actually pulled off what he promised (though never really believed) he would do.
His election alone is the equivalent to false Messiah getting super lucky (thanks James Comey!) and pulling off a “miracle” so that the masses are now forever convinced that he has magic powers and really is the “Chosen One.” We are now essentially living in a world where Monty Python’s movie “Life of Brian” has come to very real life.
As someone who still stubbornly lives in the dark ages where truth actually mattered at least a little bit, I had first thought that Trump had set himself up for sure failure because he had made so many very direct and impossible to fulfill campaign promises. I figured that at least one or two of his three very different bases of support (Conservatives, Republicans, and Populists) would inevitably totally abandon him once it was exposed that he had duped them with empty pledges he never had any intention or ability to fulfill.
Ironically, this is much the same situation in which President Obama took office. After all, he was going to single-handedly stop the rise of the oceans. However, Obama had some huge advantages which allowed him to get away with that ruse. He came into the White House with an economy in near ruins and so therefore statistically it was very difficult for him to not be perceived as succeeding at least to some degree. He also had a huge electoral mandate, the news media almost 100% behind him, and tremendous goodwill because he was the first black president (and therefore it was somehow racist for even comedians to harshly criticize him).
Trump obviously has none of that going for him, and so when in the first few days after the election it became immediately obvious that several of his biggest promises (The Wall, repealing Obamacare, Draining the Swamp, trying to put Hillary Clinton in prison, etc.) were already hanging by a thread, I thought I might at least see some cracks in confidence among those who decided to take this massive flyer with an unqualified liberal conman. I even bought the URL www.BrokenTrumpPromises.com in case I wanted to document what I am confident will be a long list of Trump boasts which never get done. However, from what I can tell, there has been no sign at all of buyer’s remorse, and while it is obviously incredibly early, I am now convinced there never will be, at least among his strongest supporters (which make up about 20-30 million voters).
At the heart of this cognitive dissonance are a couple of key factors. The first is that humans are FAR more easily duped than they are convinced that they have been duped, especially when they have invested so much into their original belief. Secondly, Trump fans have created a narrative about him which gives him inherently plausible deniability for literally ANYTHING he says, does, or fails to do.
To Trump’s fans he has “magic” and is a strategic genius. They also know (and have fully accepted/embraced) that he is a prodigious liar. This means they now determine whether Trump is telling them the truth at any given moment not by what the facts or logic dictate, but simply by whether they WANT him to be lying or telling the truth.
As an example, my own radio co-host, who correctly predicted Trump’s win and who is extremely smart, had absolutely no problem rationalizing Trump’s unnecessary praise of President Obama as “very very good man” as simply a polite lie. When I played for her a clip of Trump lavishing praise on both Hillary and Bill Clinton, she immediately determined that (even though he was not remotely a politician at the time) this was just him playing politics and not an indication of his true beliefs. When I told her that Trump indicated to “60 Minutes” that he would not be pursuing a prosecution of the “criminally corrupt” Hillary, she countered that it was only because Trump knows Obama would just pardon her first. She also had no issue at all with the “Billy Bush” tape, though I don’t think she believes his accusers are all lying.
Some in the media have gotten praise for their “revelation” that Trump fans don’t take him literally, but rather only figuratively. There may be some truth to that, but in my experience it is more dramatic and less nuanced than that. They simply are only listening when he says what they want to hear, and then they just rationalize, or forget, the rest,
It is now obvious to me that when “The Wall” is never really built that all Trump will have to do is make sure a some portion is constructed and then he will hold a photo opportunity, declare victory, and let his propaganda machine of Fox News, the Drudge Report, Breitbart and Alex Jones do the rest for him. If they need to blame Paul Ryan for the whole thing not being built, that will be no problem at all.
Similar circumstances will prevail no what direction Trump decides to go in. When he quietly decides to not appoint a special prosecutor against his former wedding guest Hillary, his fans will praise him for being a statesman and not getting distracted from the real work of making America great again. Any other broken promises will be blamed on the Republican congressional leadership for not backing their hero more strongly.
Since Trump’s base is clearly less than half of the country, none of this will ensure he is ultimately perceived as a success and ends up winning reelection (assuming he wants the job that long). However, having a large, enthusiastic, and indestructible base is an incredibly valuable political asset, especially in this modern era of extreme media and cultural fragmentation.
My guess is that Trump will make sure that his biggest fans get a few prominent crumbs, but he will, in general, crap all over his base so that he can expand his support. Having such a uniquely loyal following will allow him incredible flexibility to drift in whichever direction serves him at any given moment. It also means that, barring massive inflation or a catastrophic foreign policy/national security mistake (neither of which can be spun), I see virtually no chance that Trump ever completely implodes politically, as many of his critics, on both the right and left, have been predicting since Tuesday.
As one who has been wrong about Trump’s political prospects far more than I have been right, it seems time to accept the reality that if Trump plays his cards correctly and gets lucky (maybe his greatest personal asset to date) he could end up being perceived, at least in the short run, as a rather successful president. My sense is that those who would benefit most under that scenario will not be those who supported candidate Trump the most, but, more likely, those who did so among the least. After all, those who already love a narcissist with a tiny attention span are not nearly as enticing to him as those whose adulation he has yet to win over.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.