The Myth of the Monolithic Trump Base
by Kevin Kelton
I keep hearing wizened political pundits saying that no matter what President Donald Trump says or does, “his base” will not abandon him, and therefore he is immune from the forces of political nature. Those sage experts are wrong, wrong, wrong.
Because a political “base” is not a monolith. They do not all think alike. They do not have meetings and vote to cast their support as a singular unit, like a labor union or congressional caucus. A base is not an it. It is a populaion of many its. And a population can expand or contract.
Right now, Trump seems to enjoy a 36-44% base of domestic political support. (Frankly, I think that’s high. I suspect his real base tops out at 40%.)
Of course, he’ll never lose all of that base. Even Richard Nixon, on the day he resigned in disgrace, had a 24% approval rating. But that was down from the 62% of the vote he received in his 1972 reelection, and the whooping 66% who seemed solidly with him after the announcement of the Paris Peace Accords officially ended the Vietnam War in January 1973. And, of course, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both saw their popularity dip into the 20s at the low point of their respective presidencies – with Bush scraping 25%, down from the 90% he achieved post 9/11.
The best example is George H.W. Bush. In February 1992, on the heels of his success in the Persian Gulf War, Bush had a record 89% job approval rating in the Gallup poll. It would have been intuitive to think his core base had to be fifty or even sixty percent. But that intuition proved wrong, as his approval rating in the same poll was down to 29% just sixteen months later, sowing the seeds for his disastrous reelection bid. Even the now-revered Harry Truman spiraled down to 22% before leaving office, a crash of 65 points off his all-time high of 87% following the end of WWII.
What goes up, must come down. And the down can come fast and hard, especially where integrity and honor are concerned. Just ask Bill O’Reilly or Bill Cosby. If you think a lying, morally bankrupt, con man like Trump is immune from the same political physics that kneecapped both Bushes and Give ‘Em Hell Harry, guess again.
So no, Trump will surely never lose his entire base of support. He doesn’t need to to fail big league. If he hemorrhages just 5-10 points from where he stands now, he’s a goner.
Which brings us back to the myth of the monolithic base. Sure, there are diehards who just like the guy and don’t care what comes out about him. What we’ll call the Fifth Avenue crowd. But somewhere in that current 36-44% of professed Trump supporters are other, more reasonable, more swayable voters – the people who truly love his policies or truly detested the Democratic alternative, but are not blind to his character flaws or impervious to proven criminal misdeeds.
As Trump’s crimes, if they exist, are laid out by the Special Prosecutor and proven in the eyes of the reasonable-minded public, his 40% will contract to 35% and then 32% or less.
And in politics, when a politician’s “price” drops to 32%, sell!
Trump may enjoy a dead cat bounce in the polls if he succeeds in arranging the release of the three hostages held by North Korea and negotiates a successful nuclear disarmament agreement with the Kim regime. So did the Bushes after their stunning foreign policy successes.
Trump’s base is not a silver bullet or impenetrable fortress. At best, it is a porous dam of false security holding back the flood of bad news that’s no doubt surging his way.
And when the subpoenas start flying and the criminal targets start flipping, it may end up being as helpful as the Maginot Line.