By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Many people remained mystified about one of the great ironies of American politics. That is, how Donald Trump, a guy that almost no one in the Republican Party political establishment liked in the beginning, and despite everything dirty about him still owns and runs the party lock, stock, and barrel.
This is the second of a two-part series on how and why the Republican Party is still Donald Trump’s party.
Start with the numbers. The 74 million votes he got in his 2020 presidential loss was the greatest number of votes a losing presidential candidate ever got in a free election anywhere, ever.
In fact, it was a greater number than any American presidential winner had ever received. But it was how Trump got those staggering numbers that revealed much about why Republican politicians of all stripes, years after his ouster from the White House and through multiple state and federal indictments, remain scared stiff of him.
In part, it was rage and rebellion against the perceived wheeling-and-dealing corporate beltway Democrats and Republicans. In another, it was a passionate belief that Trump talks the talk and fights the fight for less-educated blue-collar and rural workers, a healthy segment of middle-class suburbia, and a not inconsiderable number of Blacks and Hispanics.
In even bigger part, it is his deep tap of the racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, nativist, know-nothing fear and loathing that is a foundational part of American life.
Those factors remain powerful, undeniable forces that propel American politics. So powerful, that in spite of the irrefutable proof that the 2020 presidential vote and vote process was accurate and untainted, more than half of Republicans in 2023 still doggedly claim the election was stolen from Trump.
The number of those who still buyTrump’s lie that the election was fraudulent has dropped. However, there is still the strong current of belief in the Trump lie. Even when those who spout the “election was stolen” nonsense couldn’t give any coherent reason for clinging to the silly belief.
Sarah Longwell, executive director of Republicans for the Rule of Law, conducted regular focus groups with fans of Trump. She explained, “For many of Trump’s voters, the belief that the election was stolen is not a fully formed thought. They know something nefarious occurred but can’t easily explain how or why. What’s more, they’re mystified and sometimes angry that other people don’t feel the same.”
Trump’s vote numbers and the frenzy of his backers are the life support of the Republican Party. Without them, the party was in grave danger of losing vital House and Senate seats in both the 2022 mid-term and 2024 presidential elections. Any Republican falling off the cliff here meant the party could kiss any chance it had of fully taking Congress back in 2024 goodbye.
Much has been made that America will no longer be an old-white-guy-run country in 2050, that white male voters have steadily dropped in national elections, and that Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and young persons would be the new majority voters.
But that is still a long way off and will not decisively tip the 2024 presidential election to the Democrats. White males still would have outsized voter clout in the crucial heartland states and the South.
Trump knows that and talks to them in the giant circus-like exhibitions that pass for campaign rallies. He openly brags at his rallies that he will continue to do exactly what got him elected in 2016.
That was, play hard on his base’s latent racist, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, pseudo-patriotic sentiment. The added element, considering the multiple indictments, is to play even harder on the conspiracy-to-get-him theory.
In polls and interviews, Trump’s backers fill in yet another piece of the puzzle on Trump’s popularity. He is a real, tough talking, tough acting, the almost proverbial man on the white horse type of leader.
The proof for many was that he allegedly got things done on immigration, the fight against terrorism, and most importantly, a robust economy with lots of jobs and relatively low inflation. A September CNN poll backed that up. It found that Trump wallops President Joe Biden in terms of a perceived better job performance on those issues.
There was one other add on. His boosters claim that he has a clearer vision of the future direction of the country than Biden. That is not an inconsiderable intangible that sways millions of Americans who are always nervous about the country’s future.
The blunt reality is that Trump is always more than the titular head of the Republican Party, even after his loss in 2020. He is still the point man for Republicans on policy and issues. In a perverse way, he spurs them into action on the issues. That includes playing relentless hardball with the Democrats.
Trump showed that he could give Republicans a big boost in their ruthless drive to tamp down Democratic voter turnout by suppressing, rigging, playing dirty and gerrymandering. That millions continue to swear by him still is terrifying frightening testimony that the Republican Party is still very much Trump’s party.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KPFK Radio and the Pacifica Network.