Donald Trump has made life less comfortable for a variety of minority groups in America, including Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, and the fiscally conservative, socially cosmopolitan financiers of the Grand Old Party.
On Thursday, several such GOP donors informed the Republican National Committee that Trump had finally gone too far. This coalition of temporarily embarrassed billionaires called on the RNC to disavow Trump now that the mogul’s apparent affinity for sexual assault was threatening “to inflict lasting damage on the party’s image,” the New York Times reports.
“At some point, you have to look in the mirror and recognize that you cannot possibly justify support for Trump to your children — especially your daughters,” David Humphreys, a Missouri business executive who’d provided $2.5 million to Republican candidates in recent years, told the paper.
In hindsight, it looks like the sheer discomfort of being an elite, highly educated member of the “grab ’em by the pussy” party may have played a part in spurring last weekend’s wave of Republican defections. While some GOP candidates had sound political reasons to abandon Trump, other office-holders seem to have merely wished that the more dignified option was also the most politically expedient.
Six days ago, third-ranking Senate Republican John Thune called for Trump to step aside and let Mike Pence become the GOP standard-bearer. Nebraska senator Deb Fischer said the same. Long-shot Republican Senate candidate in Colorado Darryl Glenn declared that Trump’s remarks to Billy Bush had rendered him “simply disqualified from being commander-in-chief.”
Now Thune and Fischer have reaffirmed their support for Trump, while Glenn has invited the mogul to give him an excuse to get back onboard.
Their conciliation reflected the overwhelming consensus of Republican voters. In a poll taken after Sunday night’s town hall, 83 percent of Republicans told NBC News that GOP House and Senate candidates should back Trump. CBS/YouGov battleground polls of Ohio and Pennsylvania showed upwards of 90 percent of Trump supporters saying the Access Hollywood tape had had “no impact” on their view of the nominee.
That view is largely shared by the 168 members of the Republican National Committee.
“You have a war breaking out between Obama and Russia, and you’re fussing about somebody’s improper actions with a female?” Tamara Scott, Republican National Committeeperson from Iowa, told Politico. “The future of this country is at stake. I get that he’s not a Boy Scout. I’m looking for a bulldog.”
Ohio’s Lake County GOP chairperson Dale Fellows told the outlet, “Not one person has called me from our central committee or elected officials or anybody else and said anything about it other than let’s get him elected because she can’t be president.”
Elite Republican donors want to believe that it is in their party’s political interest to disown Trump, because they want to belong to a party in which boasts about assaulting women — and rants about cabals of international bankers hell-bent on ending U.S. sovereignty — are politically toxic.
But they don’t.
As the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman notes, Trump’s latest scandal doesn’t seem to be doing significant damage to down-ballot candidates in blue-collar districts. And if Republicans wish to retain the Senate and House, there’s far less risk in alienating moderate, suburban Republicans than there is in turning off Trump’s base. Per Wasserman:
Importantly, these suburban-dwellers are also the voters likeliest to stick with Republicans down-ballot because a) they are fundamentally Republicans b) they turn out at very high rates and c) they are likelier than other demographic groups to know who their local congressional candidates are. That’s a distinct scenario from the GOP than Trump’s base staying home, which would hurt much more. And that’s good news for the House GOP.
If Republicans want to retain their congressional majorities, disavowing Trump en masse looks like the worst thing they can do. (At least until the next tape comes out.)
Still, it’s possible that it would be better for the GOP’s future political prospects to distance itself from Trump. Though that argument was more compelling months ago: At this point, to the extent that Trump is going to alienate a generation of nonwhite voters and college-educated women from the GOP, the die appears cast.
The problem for anti-Trump Republican donors is that their fiscal agenda is far more radical and unpopular than they care to admit. Mainstream conservative parties in nearly every other Western country recognize the validity of the welfare state. Assembling a majority coalition that supports tax cuts for the rich in a time of runaway inequality has required feeding the party’s downscale wing an evermore toxic stew of white identity politics and conspiratorial fever dreams.
The GOP donor class got the monster it paid for. Now it’s Frankenstein’s party. They’re just bankrolling it.