But not so fast. Before you write off the base, you have to understand who the base is. Trump got the most primary votes of any Republican in history. He did that by expanding the GOP establishment vote to solidify support from three key groups: social conservatives, the “alt-right,” and the Rust Belt coalition. All of which are responding to the recent course corrections by the president.
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In a little over a week, Trump reversed on several key policy positions: he ordered missile strikes in Syria after opposing military action there for many years, he dropped his view that NATO is obsolete, he walked back the claim that China is a currency manipulator and indicated he is no longer certain he will replace Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen when her term expires
Keep in mind, if voters thought that Trump’s tendency to change his positions was an unforgivable sin, he never would have won the GOP nomination and never would have been elected president.
First, social conservatives have felt burned by the GOP over the past decade. They did not get their candidate of choice in 2008 or 2012, but the party relied on them to man phone banks, knock on doors and get out the vote in the general election.
While Trump was not the first choice for many of them, they quickly came to see him as a willing advocate. The Trump transition team brought them into the conversation and truly listened to them. In 2016, social conservatives no longer felt like a GOP afterthought.
Social conservatives wanted a Scalia-like Supreme Court justice and they got it with the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. For many, this was the single biggest factor in their support of the president.
These pro-life conservatives also wanted Trump to honor the anti-abortion message he campaigned on, which he did last week with the signing of an order allowing states to withhold federal money from abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. Victory on these issues was like eating dessert before dinner for them; they got the sweet stuff they wanted and they didn’t have to wait. They are not troubled by recent head fakes by the President — they are playing long ball.
Secondly, the “alt-right” movement, viewed as anti-intervention and anti-multiculturalism, embraced candidate Trump’s populist isolationism message. The movement had lived largely online, but came out to campaign events and voting booths for Trump.
Many ardent supporters are now vocal opponents of Trump’s decision to order the missile strike against Syria. Some question whether he should have the nuclear codes if he’s making military decisions based on emotions. These people want a lot more, a lot faster from the administration.
Alt-right leaders are also up in arms over Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon losing his seat at the National Security table and rumors of Bannon’s departure due to infighting with the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. It’s not the end of the world if Bannon is shown the door, but it would be problematic with this portion of the Trump base.
The third facet of Trump’s support is the Rust Belt coalition that voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016 because they saw him as the working man’s champion. The Rust Belt’s revenge turned blue states to red for Trump. Working-class voters in the nation’s heartland supported the President’s trade and economic message. These are not hard-core issue conservatives, but they like knowing their president is going to stick it to China and roll back burdensome federal regulations that stifle the economy.
Trump must not forget his power base is the American worker. If he delivers on the economy, the Rust Belt coalition is not going anywhere.
The West Wing reversals are clearly ruffling some feathers in the base. Asked about the President’s shifting positions, White House press secretary Sean Spicer says it’s the various circumstances, not Trump, that have changed. He even made the dubious claim that “some cases or issues, are evolving towards the President’s position.”
Draining the swamp is an easy campaign slogan, but Trump is learning that successful governing is much more difficult than winning campaigns.