US President Donald Trump just equated the behaviour of Neo-Nazis to those who oppose them, and claimed there were “some very nice people” amongst the extremists that marched upon Charlottesville, Virginia. Even by Trumpian standards, this was an almost unconscionable set of statements, reaching a new low for a man who was elected despite a plethora of sexist and racist behaviour which would easily have sunk any other candidate. So will this horrendous set of statements have any serious consequences for Trump? Will his party and base turn against him after possibly the most vile set of statements made by a US President in recent memory?
Probably not. And here is the explanation. There was a Monmouth University poll released on August 14th, after Charlottesville and his initial statement blaming both sides, which said that 25% of Americans said they will support Trump no matter what. Even though his approval rating of 38% is at record lows for someone at this stage of the Presidency, a quarter of the US population is willing to forgive anything he does. And many of them actively support his statements regarding this incident. A Huff Post/YouGov poll conducted on August 14/15 showed that 11% of Trump supporters agreed with the white nationalists in Charlottesville, and 37% felt that the extremists “went too far, but have a point”. So adding this up, half of Trump’s supporters had at least some sympathy for the Neo-Nazis who marched upon Charlottesville. No wonder Trump went to great lengths to avoid calling out them out.
And that is the central problem — a significant number of American voters are tolerant of these extremist views. Though the majority of Americans undoubtedly frown upon racism, a certain percentage of the population has some sympathy for the Neo-Nazis who believe that Jews and dark skinned folk are at the heart of the problems America faces. And the large majority of them are Trump supporters. With this extremely loyal base, Trump has control of the Republican Party, which must turn against him for him to be impeached. For most Republican senators and congressmen, turning openly against Trump would be akin to political suicide. As Republican insider Steve Schmidt said on CNBC after Trump’s statement (Schmidt ran John McCain’s 2008 Presidential campaign) “Republican leaders need to condemn [Trump] by name or risk falling into a moral abyss” but added “most politicians have a finely tuned instinct for self-preservation”. And this is why very few elected Republican officials have specifically condemned Trump. They know full well that without the Trump base on their side, they probably won’t be re-elected.
If a quarter of the population and most Republicans are behind you “no matter what” and half your supporters have some sympathy with the Neo-Nazis, perhaps it doesn’t make sense to antagonise them (assuming, of course, that one is bereft of any morality). Trump got elected president through scapegoating immigrants and minorities, and playing on fears of globalisation. David Dukes, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, explained “That’s why we voted for Trump, because he said we would take our country back”. Trump knows full well that his supporters would largely forgive him or support him when he blamed both sides for the violence in Charlottesville. He doesn’t care what the rest of America thinks. That’s why he will ultimately face little fallout from his political base for the appalling remarks that he made.
All the press, business leaders and foreign politicians in the world can condemn Trump as much as they want. But only 18 of the 292 Republican congressmen and senators called Trump out by name post-Charlottesville. Unless his base turns against him, an unlikely event, it is hard to see what else (including accusations of collusion with the Russians) will force Trump to step down.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2017.
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