by Tony Wyman
Trump’s supporters will never abandon him
His supporters know he’s a liar. They know he cheated on every one of his three wives, that he deceived the First Lady with a porn star, who he later bribed to stay quiet. They know his relationship with Russia, his affection for dictators and his contempt for the rule of law should scare the daylights out of everyone who loves liberty. And they know that he has no loyalty to anyone but himself.
But they still love him.
Yes, Donald Trump told the truth, one of the few times he has, when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters. For most Americans who aren’t Trump fans, the continued rock-ribbed support of his followers is a mystery. But it shouldn’t be.
It is actually quite simple and, to understand it, all you need to know there are four reasons voters supported Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. And they are the same four reasons they will never abandon him.
Reason One: Trump Shares Their Values
It might seem a stretch to suggest that a man like Donald Trump who has lived a life of great privilege and limitless wealth shares the values of the millions of Americans who voted for him, but research suggests this is very much the case.
A study done by Hogan Assessments in early 2018 looked at the responses of 1825 people who took a web-based “Trump Values Similarity Test“ measuring ten categories the researchers believed would determine how closely someone matched Mr. Trump’s values: Recognition, Power, Hedonism, Altruism, Affiliation, Tradition, Security, Commerce, Aesthetics and Science.
What the research showed was those who self-identified as supporters of the president, also had high scores matching Mr. Trump’s values. In addition, they scored low on altruism, while scoring high on power, commerce and tradition, categories researchers viewed as key to Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016. About the key voting bloc that helped Mr. Trump defeat Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton, researchers said:
“This is a group with similar values to Trump, and his campaign messaging was tailored to influence and mobilize these voters. He talked often about how hard work pays off (low Altruism), winning (high Power), making America great again (high Power and high Tradition), law and order (high Tradition) and renegotiating trade deals to make Americans rich (high Commerce). It is reasonable to hypothesize that emphasizing these values that white, working class Americans hold in high regard, Trump was able to win over their support in key states and secure his victory.“
The study, led by Dr. Ryne Sherman, took the results and broke them into three factors that could lead a voter to cast a ballot for Mr. Trump. Of the three: values, political philosophy and party affiliation, it was values that most closely correlated to a voter pulling a lever for Mr. Trump.
“Values are the key drivers of human behavior,” said Dr.Sherman, Chief Science Officer for Hogan.“They motivate us and represent our philosophy of life. Although it’s unlikely that any single study could definitively identify all of the reasons Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, the data in this study suggest that personal values may have played an important role.”
This result was mirrored by a study done by the New York Times in 2017 that showed it was millions of white, working-class voters who shared Mr. Trump’s values who switched from voting for Barack Obama in 2012 to the Republican in 2016. These voters were pivotal in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin. Without them, Mr. Trump would have lost both the popular and the electoral vote.
Why did voters who once supported President Obama, who were traditionally Democrats, change parties and cast their ballots for a man who couldn’t be any more different than the former president? Simply because, for the first time, there was a candidate who spoke to them in ways no other candidate ever had before, who validated their core values in a manner no previous candidate have even attempted.
Reason Two: Trump Said Out Loud What His Supporters Were Afraid to Say
To capture the attention of the primary voter, Mr. Trump had to have a message that resonated with enough Republican voters that he could get past early primaries and sustain his campaign long enough for weaker challengers to drop out. He had to find a niche in the Republican electorate big enough to capture momentum in the election and the only way for him to do that was to speak to voters in a way the other candidates wouldn’t.
So, what was this message that reached so many Democrats as well as many Republicans? That it was okay to hold the unpopular, controversial and out-of-fashion views they held because he, too, held them. It was okay, Mr. Trump signaled his supporters, to hold views from past days when, in his words, America was great, when it was unafraid to see things in black and white, instead of in many complex shades of grey.
It didn’t matter to his supporters that the things Mr. Trump promised were unrealistic. What mattered was he shared their frustration with the status quo, with their sense they had been cheated, that forces outside their control were screwing them, their country and their future.
When Mr. Trump promised his supporters a wall, for example, few truly believed he would build one.
It didn’t matter because they heard him communicate a shared value of being anti-immigration, anti-foreigner and opposed to the further multi-culturalization of America.
It didn’t matter to them that they knew Mexico would never pay for a wall, even though Mr. Trump said, many times, our southern neighbor would eventually write us a check, because the wall was never the most important thing to them in the first place.
What was important was that Mr. Trump shared their fears of strangers, shared their prejudices and concerns, as unpopular as they seemed to be, as maligned as they were in the media and in popular culture.
What mattered to his supporters was Mr. Trump shared those unpopular, maligned viewpoints and that he was willing to stand up for them. He was willing to proudly identify as a “deplorable,” to stand before the “liberal” media and hit back, unapologetically, unflinchingly, when they called him out for the controversial, often offensive, things he said.
It mattered to them because they said and thought those things, too. They agreed with Mr. Trump that Mexicans crossing the border were largely criminals and gangsters coming to this country to do us harm. They believed that the media was biased, that it lied about people like them, that it kept people like the Clintons, who shared the media’s left-wing bias, in power.
When Mr. Trump mocked a handicapped reporter, when he maligned Carly Fiorina‘s looks, when he launched an attack on the Gold Star parents of fallen American war hero Capt. Humayun Khan, an attack that focused on their Muslim faith, he was signaling his supporters that he was siding with them against the forces of political correctness, even on the most sensitive taboos.
Political correctness, which had sided against the old culture of white, male domination, of racism in American culture. Political correctness, which had forced changes in the way Americans interacted with each other in the workplace, in schools, in churches. Political correctness, which Trump supporters believed was largely responsible for the collapse of traditional American values, replacing them with something strange, foreign and unknown. Political correctness, which was changing, forever, it seemed, the fabric of American society.
Forever, that is, until Mr. Trump came along, promising to “Make America Great Again,” which was seen as code by his supporters as a promise to restore the old ways that ruled America before the liberals changed everything. Before being gay was acceptable, before racial integration erased the advantage white people had in society, before women left the kitchen and took seats in the boardroom, and before authority figures were challenged by everyone from kids opposed to school shootings to black NFL players kneeling to draw attention to racial injustice. Before “others” became insiders.
Reason Three: Authoritarian Aggression
Another thing that supporters of Mr. Trump liked in their candidate was he shared their combative, hostile belligerence towards others who they found threatening and intimidating. They saw, in Mr. Trump’s bellicose and aggressive rhetoric, a man who understood their fear of others and who shared their willingness to resort to hostility to deal with the threat they perceived.
Many of Mr. Trump’s supporters voted for him in the hopes that he would use the power of the White House to suppress and control groups of “others” they found threatening.
Political scientists call this philosophy “Authoritarian Aggression,” the employment of tough, brutal, punitive and often coercive measures to establish and maintain social control. For an example of how this authoritarian aggression works, look to the Trump Administration’s practice of separating immigrant children from their parents taking place on the border today.
The concept of Authoritarian Aggression was part of the research into right-wing authoritarianism done by Bob Altemeyer, when he was a professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba. (“Right-wing, in this context, doesn’t refer to political affiliation, but, rather, the willingness to employ force to control or influence a citizenry.) He determined there were three types of right-wing authoritarianism:
- Authoritarian submission – people who fall into this category believe in submitting to the authorities who are seen as established and legitimate leaders of the follower’s society. People who adhere to this thinking believe society needs a strong and determined leader to propel the nation forward.
- Authoritarian aggression – those who support this form of authoritarian leadership seek a powerful figure who will aggressively attack those who are “deviants” or “outsiders” in society, such as immigrants, racial or religious minorities, sexual outcasts, as well as foreigners in their own countries.
- Conventionalism – authoritarian followers in this category look for a leader who will demand adherence to the traditions and norms of a society. These people will demand that all members of the society obey the norms and will expect their leaders to enforce obedience.
In a study done in April 2016 by Prof. Steven Ludeke of the University of Southern Denmark, supporters of Mr. Trump were likely to favor aggressive authoritarian leaders.
“Consistent with Trump’s representation of the world as a dangerous place requiring harsh treatment of deviant minorities,” Prof. Ludeke wrote, “Trump supporters were high on authoritarian aggression.”
Interestingly, they scored very low on authoritarian submission. This form of authoritarianism is characterized by “favoring uncritical, respectful, obedient, submissive support for existing authorities and institutions,” according to researchers. Those who scored high in this area on the study were likely to support Mrs. Clinton in the 2016 election.
Reason Four: An Attitude of Defiance
In addition to Mr. Trump’s aggressive behavior, supporters found his attitude towards the institutions of society, institutions such as the press or the establishment wing of the GOP, attractive.
“Defiance is Donald J. Trump’s signature attitude; it was the defining characteristic of the 2016 Trump campaign. Trump defied the political establishment, the news media, conventional wisdom, common decency, former President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and even the pope,” said George Mason University government and public policy Professor Bill Schneider.
To his supporters, Mr. Trump’s attitude of defiance was seen as a positive, as a sign of fearlessness, courage and independence. Most of all, they admired his willingness to stick his finger in the eye of political correctness, even when he does so in a manner that is crude, distasteful and discrediting. Universal freedom of speech and the non-aligned news media was also a target.
“They share his contempt for the establishment, the news media, educated elites and the norms of political correctness,” said Prof. Schneider, “all of which helps explain why Trump’s base is sticking with him now that he has antagonized the entire national establishment.”
This is why Mr. Trump’s base is nonplussed about the Mueller investigation and the possibility of charges against the president. To them, the investigation is nothing more than the political establishment ganging up against Mr. Trump in a conspiratorial effort to discredit him.
His numerous tweets in defiance of the investigation, denying charges against him and mocking the FBI and other watchdogs who are tasked to hold government officials accountable to the laws they create and enforce, are rallying cries to Mr. Trump’s supporters who see them as another justified rejection of the political establishment.
And regardless of the conclusion of the Mueller probe, whether it finds the president guilty of serious charges or concludes Mr. Trump never colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 election, Mr. Trump’s supporters aren’t going to abandon him.
Ultimately, the results will have no discernable impact on the 2020 election because rejecting Mr. Trump then would require his supporters to reject their own values. And, having finally gotten a president who shares what they believe and who is willing to say so out loud, they aren’t going to do that.