Recently I had a long conversation with a very connected guy in the Republican establishment, and got an interesting perspective on what might be called the anti-anti-Trump vote.
My informant opposed Trump throughout the primary process in 2016, and I’m almost sure he didn’t vote for him in the general, though I didn’t ask (this is somebody who is a nationally prominent figure in conservative circles).
Here’s his take (not mine) on various issues:
(1) Right now there’s a big backlash on the right against what’s perceived as the left/liberal demonization of Trump’s supporters as a whole. He expressed this as a frustration with what’s seen by these people as an obsessive focus on Trump’s faults as a human being, which he admits are considerable, but which he believes is a subject that has been beaten to death.
The key thing is that he thinks this sentiment is very widely shared on the right. Basically, it’s “Yes Trump is a bad guy. He’s personally corrupt. He sexually assaults women, or at least boasts of doing so. He says racist inflammatory stuff. All that is bad. But all this has been established, over and over again. Harping on it serves no purpose except to make people who hold their noses and support Trump anyway feel as if they’re being told they’re bad persons for doing so. And that makes people dig in and support him all the more.”
(2) A lot of support for Trump is based on the fact that he never apologizes for anything. Trump taps into a kind of vengeance politics, which my correspondent insists is a huge factor in politics in general, and especially on the right. A lot of Trump supporters are people who have never gotten over how Nixon was driven from office. Now my correspondent acknowledges that Nixon deserved to be removed from the presidency on the merits, but also emphasizes that a lot of conservatives who agree with that judgment, and did at the time, nevertheless still resent the hell out of the fact that a duly elected president was driven from office, even though for — as they acknowledge! — legitimate reasons.
Short version: A huge amount of what happens on the right in American politics continues to be motivated by a desire to give liberals a kind of payback for Watergate. And they’re never going to make that “mistake” again, no matter what the merits may be.
(3) The entire conservative establishment remains outraged about the attempt to block Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, which its members almost unanimously see as a weaponization of metoo# for purely partisan aims. He insisted that it was almost impossible to overstate how deeply held this view is.
In short, the “he’a an SOB but at least he’s our SOB” view of Trump has now become deeply embedded among lots of people on the right who supported him only tepidly, or not at all, three years ago. (This would seem to be confirmed that apparently nothing can cause Trump’s approval rating to drop much below 40%. Note that Nixon fell into the mid-20s at the time of the Saturday Night Massacre and pretty much stayed there for the remaining ten months of his presidency).
I was struck by the extent to which the anti-anti-Trump vote on the right is motivated by what appears to be an identical psychology to that manifested by people like Greenwald on the faux-left. These people claim to hate Trump, but they actually hate the Democratic party establishment far more, to the point where they are objectively pro-Trump, whatever their protestations to the contrary.
At least the right-wing anti-anti-Trumpers aren’t too deluded to realize they’re actually supporting him.
. . . this comment from Incontinentia Buttocks makes a key point:
I think we need to be very careful not to see the attitude on the right you describe as caused by the things that your informant says trigger it (i.e. liberal concerns about Trump’s personal failings, anger over Watergate, and Kavanaugh). This kind of ressentiment is a key component of reactionary politics around the world. In the UK, for example, you see it in the refrain by Brexiteers that any criticism of Brexit is just elites disrespecting Leave voters. A motivating feeling that a powerful Other is looking down on you and trying to take advantage of you is built into the American right. And it will find its vessels whatever the left does.