I had a few conversations with Republicans right after Trump was elected. People were more than forthcoming then, owning their vote by declaring that Trump was simply the less bad of two lousy options. They would explain that they were willing to take a bet that Trump would rise to the task. But now, two and a half years into an administration that is soaked to the bone in corruption, criminality, deceit, race baiting, misogyny, xenophobia, assault on our Constitution, and scientific ignorance, I ache to understand. Why again? Now that you know all that you know, why?
Now, let’s acknowledge: I had a decidedly unfair advantage in this conversation. Somebody who spends a good part of a decade writing blog essays about politics certainly should be expected to have a firmer grasp of issues and details than a person who is not engaged in that type of activity.
Still and all, I must confess to having been startled by the degree to which our companion for cocktails was uninformed or misinformed about the major issues of our day. Repeatedly in our conversation, she would make casual comments about the actions and intentions of the Trump administration, only to be startled and thrown off when presented with a thoroughly-supported rebuttal.
The third party in our conversation -- my friend who had originally invited us for drinks -- is a feisty, spirited liberal, and at one point she jumped in, challenging her Republican friend to defend her support of Trump on what she viewed to be the most fundamental issue of all. “Ok, fine… forget everything else. I just want to hear how you can support this man given his position on the most important issue of our time. How,” she asked, “can you support a man who is ignoring the science of climate change? How can you stand by and let him imperil the lives of our grandchildren?”
The mood shifted when the discussion turned to the economy. Suddenly, she became more animated in her defense of Trump. She was convinced that Donald Trump’s stewardship of the economy was infinitely better than what would occur with any of the progressive Democratic candidates.
Sure, nobody wants a weak economy. The real issues are how to keep the economy strong, and how to ensure that a strong economy is a rising tide that raises all boats. What I did not hear in this conversation is advocacy that Donald Trump's economic policies were designed to benefit all citizens. I did not hear an argument that Trump had a coherent, comprehensive approach to managing the economy that was smart, fair to all, and sound in the long term. All I heard were deep concerns about Democrats who are too "progressive" on economic issues, and who advocated policies that would change course from the Trump administration. The implication was clear: this economic Republican did not want to see any policy changes, be it in taxation, regulatory policy, or trade.
Perhaps the entire two hour conversation provides some context for the fact that Donald Trump's approval rating never budges from its fixed position in the low forties. No matter what affront to our sensibilities is in the daily headlines, Republicans will find a way to ignore it, minimize it, rationalize it, and move past it... as long as Trump is delivering what matters most to them personally. This statement applies across a broad swath of Republican voters... the economic Republicans, as well as the people whose entire world view is funneled through the a single issue, be it Roe v. Wade, the Second Amendment, or immigration.
I need to pause in this assessment and praise our conversation companion on one vitally important point: that she engaged in the conversation at all, and stayed with it for nearly two hours. At the top of this article, I bemoaned the death of dialog, as we all have experienced the discomfort of a direct encounter with an emotionally turbo-charged opposing political view. Sometimes we take the debate head on and lead with our anger. Sometimes we simply cut off a conversation before it has a chance to do damage. More often we duck and cover to avoid it entirely. But my companion for cocktails stayed in this dialog and we actually did exchange perspectives. We did not agree, but we did not disrespect each other. Maybe we both even learned something. I sure did.
More likely: they would look for a different Republican.
None of Weld, Walsh, or Sanford have current positions that would be jeopardized by opposing Trump. All are indulging in a flyer with little to lose.
It is exactly what happened to George H.W. Bush in 1992.
A Republican who does not force "economic Republicans" to suck it in and defend the embarrassment of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia?
But when they turn on Trump, he will hear it. And it won't be just so much white noise.
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