Republicans Can’t Stand Frauds, Except When They Can
I agree with Rod Dreher and Michael Brendan Dougherty that Trump is a fraud. It seems to me that almost everyone has understood this about him from the start, and that includes many of his supporters. As Alan Jacobs pointed out earlier this week, the key thing to understand about Trump’s enduring (and growing) support is that “Trump voters don’t care.”
Rubio has taken to call Trump a “con artist,” which is a fair enough description, but it is a bit rich coming from the opportunist who has a different immigration position for each election cycle. Trump presumably will betray his voters on at least some core issues. Rubio already has betrayed his voters once on a major issue, and then he turned around and abandoned his allies on the other side of the immigration debate. Drawing attention to Trump’s lack of trustworthiness is fair play, but it’s not a very smart one for a candidate that voters have just as much reason to distrust.
It is also striking how accepting of a fraud so many anti-Trump Republicans were when Romney was the one running a con on their party. Like Trump, Romney had no credibility as a conservative, he had a long history of publicly endorsing policies that most Republicans opposed, and he lied about and misrepresented his own record and the records of others with ease. Romney was famously malleable and would say almost anything if he thought that was what the audience wanted to hear. Romney took some positions that his supporters dismissed as meaningless because they were confident he was just scamming his own voters, and whenever he said something outlandish or extreme they would laugh it off because he couldn’t possibly believe what he was saying. Romney was thoroughly unprincipled and would say almost anything to gain power, and with a very few exceptions almost all Republicans didn’t care. Many movement conservatives not only tolerated this, but actively helped him in running his con. When Romney won the nomination on his second attempt, the party rallied behind him. Romney was arguably a better con-man than Trump, but he was a con-man nonetheless.
Trump voters can presumably see that Trump is a con-man, but that doesn’t stop them from supporting him. Trump is the instrument of their rotest against or revenge on failed party leaders, and I suspect it doesn’t worry them that he won’t deliver. Some may hold out hope that he might follow through, and even that slight chance is an improvement over the others that they know will do nothing for them. Trump voters are likely more aware than most that political figures don’t deliver on promises to them, but they know that conventional politicians can be counted on to push through policies that have been harmful to them and to the country as a whole. The point of nominating Trump isn’t really to promote a set of policies (one would be hard-pressed to describe Trump’s agenda in much detail in any case) but to repudiate the party leaders that have repeatedly disregarded and dismissed Trump voters’ interests and concerns. In the end, it’s a bad choice, but then so are the alternative candidates that don’t even pretend to take the concerns of Trump’s supporters seriously.