Why Trump’s followers still love the boss: Crime is a feature, not a bug

With a decisive victory in this week’s New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump further cemented his control as the unchallenged boss of the Republican Party’s political crime organization.

The mainstream media and political class have long assumed that Trump’s obvious criminality and autocratic behavior, along with his evidently worsening sociopathic behavior, would ultimately be the cause of his certain downfall. Their reasoning or hope was that when the American people grasped the full horror of Trump’s actions, as shown in the Jan. 6 committee hearings under the previous Congress, his multiple criminal indictments, civil verdicts that have found him liable for sexual assault and business fraud, and his generally vile behavior, even Republican voters would finally reject him en masse.

That delusion was especially common among “traditional” and “establishment” Republicans and other anti-Trump conservatives, who convinced themselves that their party still had an honorable core, and that its voters would turn against the former president because of their belief in “law and order”” and “family values.”

In reality, the opposite has happened: Trump’s power as the boss of the Republican political crime organization has grown. The loyalty of his MAGA followers has certainly not weakened, and may have increased. Tens of millions of Americans have eagerly embraced Trump’s criminal gang, and many millions more are, at the very least, willing to tolerate it and indulge it.

A recent article at Politico details the failed efforts of a group of anti-Trump Republicans to use the ex-president’s obvious criminality to undercut his support. The group “quietly tested four TV ads that aimed to weaken the former president by focusing on a central issue of the campaign: His myriad legal troubles”:

One spot, which was surveyed before an online panel of Republican primary voters, declared that the indictments against Trump had “worn” him “down” and undercut his ability to win the election. Another said the trials presented “too much baggage” and warned that Democrats would “sensationalize” them to hurt the ex-president. The hardest-hitting commercial raised the specter that Trump would be convicted, leading President Joe Biden to “cruise” to reelection.

All of the ads shared one thing in common beyond the topic on which they focused. They all failed or backfired.

Three of the four actually boosted Trump’s support among the participants. One — a softer-touch spot that features a voter saying Trump’s trials “worries” him — had no measurable impact on Trump’s numbers. The unaired ads, along with nearly 260 pages of accompanying data analysis, were obtained by POLITICO.

Strategists with the conservative anti-Trump political action committee, Win It Back PAC decided to shelve the commercials. They remain unaired. …

Those strategists reached the conclusion that “Trump’s legal problems have, if anything, helped — not hurt — his standing in the primary,” and that many Republican voters “see Trump as the victim of the legal system, not a violator of it.

As reported by Politico, several survey participants were even “pointedly defending the former president”: 

“I strongly disagree with this ad. I don’t think people are giving Trump a fair chance because of who he is,” said one.

“The thing that bothers me the most is the filthy lying individuals who are extremely corrupt that are trying to crucify Trump, which is obviously 100 percent unfair,” said another.

The memo quotes a third respondent saying: “Stop bashing Trump and stand behind him.”

None of this should seem mysterious or surprising. There is considerable research by social scientists and other experts that explains the lawless ex-president’s enduring power and appeal.

Most obviously,: Trump’s followers are eager to seek revenge and retribution against the same people and groups that he does. Even more simply, they love Donald Trump and what they believe he represents. This is especially true for white evangelical Christians, who often view Trump as a prophet, savior or messiah.

Furthermore, there is large base of support for authoritarian and fascist politics in the United States. Many Americans are strongly attracted to political strongmen autocrats willing to “bend the rules” in order to “get things done” for “people like them.”

Negative and affective partisanship — meaning a situation when a political party or movement becomes someone’s primary identity, creating an us-versus-them worldview in which the other side is not just wrong but evil — along with asymmetrical polarization, white identity politics and racism, misogyny, and hostility toward sexual or gender minorities also contribute greatly to Trump’s persistent levels of support.

The MAGA movement and American neofascism are the end result of decades of conditioning and socialization by the right-wing echo chamber and propaganda disinformation machine.

Numerous experts have expressed the view that the MAGA movement is effectively a type of cult, with Trump as its leader. That kind of unhealthy leader-follower bond is difficult to break. Trump’s followers also have what psychologists call an “adhesive relationship” with him, meaning that their individual identities have been subsumed by the MAGA movement and its figurehead.

The “sunk cost effect” may also play a role. MAGA partisans have invested so much time, money, energy and passion in Trump that they literally cannot abandon him, and only attach themselves more strongly when faced with challenges to the movement.

A generalized hostility to expert knowledge, exacerbated by the Dunning-Kruger effect, also influences the MAGA horde’s loyalty to Trump. They may see actual experts and other serious people on TV condemning Trump, citing substantive and what should be compelling evidence as to why he should be removed from public life and punished for his obvious crimes. Trump’s followers are likely to reject these experts out of hand, believing that they understand more about law, politics and Trump’s behavior than the despised “elites” on TV. They have “done their own research,” after all. New information that challenges their existing beliefs, in that context, is likely to backfire.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Then there are those who “just want to see the world burn.” So-called conservative views are highly correlated with what psychologists describe as the “dark triad” of personality traits: psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism.

The MAGA movement and American neofascism are the end result of decades of conditioning and socialization by the right-wing echo chamber and propaganda disinformation machine. This is part of a much larger closed episteme and alternate reality that includes right-wing churches, the internet and social media, and neighborhoods, communities and friendship networks, which in total function as political silos. MAGA believers and other hardcore “conservatives” are almost never exposed to contrary information, let alone to the real facts about Trump’s lawlessness, corruption and danger. 

In a recent column for the New Republic, Michael Tomasky explores the right-wing takeover of local news in America and the evident harm this has done to our democracy, civil society and political culture.

How different would things be out there in America if, 15 or 20 years ago, some rich liberal or consortium of liberals had had the wisdom to make a massive investment in local news? There were efforts along these lines, and sometimes they came to something. But they were small. What if, instead of right-wing Sinclair, some liberal company backed by a group of billionaires had bought up local TV stations or radio stations or newspapers all across the country?

Again, we can’t know, but we know this much: Support for Democrats has shriveled in rural America to near nonexistence, such that it is now next to impossible to imagine Democrats being elected to public office at nearly any level in about two-thirds of the country. It’s a tragedy. And it happened for one main reason: Right-wing media took over in these places and convinced people who live in them that liberals are all God-hating superwoke snowflakes who are nevertheless also capable of destroying civilization, and our side didn’t fight it. At all. If someone had formed a liberal Sinclair 20 years ago to gain reach into rural and small-town America, that story would be very different today. …

What will the result of this right-wing conquest be, Tomasky wonders, a generation from now?

Will we be raising a generation of children in two-thirds of the country who believe that fossil fuels are great and trees cause pollution, that slavery wasn’t the cause of the Civil War, that tax cuts always raise revenue, and that the “Democrat” Party stole the 2020 election? Yes, we will. And it will happen because too many people on the liberal side refused to grasp what [Rupert] Murdoch, [Phil] Anschutz, [David] Smith, and Viktor Orbán see so clearly. Have your own media.

Whatever may happen to Donald Trump in the courtroom(s) and over the course of the 2024 presidential campaign, one thing is almost certain: Trumpism and American neofascism will remain powerful forces in American society for a long time. Trump’s followers aren’t going to disappear; their movement is much larger than one person or leader. Lawlessness and criminality as a method for Republicans to get and keep unchecked power are here to stay, and are obvious symptoms of a profoundly sick political culture. Unless this underlying sickness in America’s political culture can be healed, Trump’s supporters will keep on fighting for their overlord — until the day comes when they transfer their love and loyalty to his chosen successor.

Read more

about Trump and the MAGA movement


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar