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Watching it slowly dawn on Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd St., that the Republicans keeping Trump alive are his own Republicans, is like watching the double take in a horror movie ("Can Republicans Escape Trump in 2020?"):
Trump’s unpopularity is stark, but not among his party’s voters. His approval ratings with Republicans have lost a few points off their peak, but they are still stable at about 80 percent. And one of the striking features of Trump’s support is that he seems to have consolidated especially the Republican voters who once were most resistant to his charms — not the populists and nationalists and celebrity-struck centrists, but the ideological conservatives and party loyalists who probably mostly voted for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
In a big new Pew Research slicing-and-dicing of the American electorate, it is these voters, the “Core Conservatives,” who give Trump the highest approval ratings — higher than what Pew calls “Country First” and “Market Skeptic” Republicans, the groups that you naturally associate with Trump’s populist campaign.That's a pretty interesting breakdown, related to the one by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group I got interested in in July. Pew's is like this:
The "Market Skeptic" Republicans here correspond roughly to the relatively multiracial and immigrant-friendly, pro–government action "Anti-Elites" of the earlier breakdown, who I thought might be persuaded to vote for Democrats, though they were easily persuaded to hate and fear Hillary Clinton in last year's propaganda apocalypse. Among the Democrats, "Devout and Diverse" sounds like it means the anti-abortion liberals; "Disaffected Dems" would be those who could be attracted to a Bernie-type insurgency, and "Opportunity Dems" the hedge-fund Democrats, as I call them, who are reliable supporters on social issues but often disappear on the economic ones.
What startles Ross is that those "populist" Market Skeptics, and even the America Firsters, are so much more likely to disapprove of our populist president than the people he came to the dance with himself, the true believers in conservative orthodoxy, though he's not so freaked out as to understand why yet:
the biggest reason for Trump’s support from core Republicans is likely the simple pull of partisanship. When he wasn’t yet the face of the party, they found various principled and practical reasons to oppose him. But now that he’s their Republican president, all those doubts seem irrelevant, and identifying as a partisan means identifying with him.Sadly, no, Ross, or not entirely: it's pretty clearly his actions and inactions, the things his people have managed to accomplish or persuade the Congress to try to accomplish, tax cuts and deregulation, the only things they've seriously cared about since the 1980s and maybe the 1780s. The "populists", whether anti-elite or anti-immigrant, are seeing nothing on their wish lists happening; the swamp is undrained, the Wall exists in the form of a half-dozen samples like a wallpaper selection, the wars go on, and people keep having sex in exotic ways and remaining unpunished (while traditional patriarchs exercising their traditional prerogatives like Bill O'Reilly and Harvey Weinstein are sent into exile, what's up with that?). But something keeps getting done: the White House keeps slashing lifesaving regulations and Congress works tirelessly on cutting taxes for people like Donald J. Trump, and tells everybody they have to do it or they'll lose the 2018 elections.
The Core Conservatives are getting exactly what they ordered, except for the calm conservative dignity part, from this president, and that's why they support him the most fervently. They've dropped the mask, and it makes apologists like Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, with their pleas that conservative governments ought to do something for poor people, if only for the sake of appearances, look like idiots. Those horrible Trump supporters are you under the mask, Ross!