Tim Miller, himself a former Republican political consultant who worked for Jeb Bush and is now a member of the Never Trump movement, asked some of his consultant colleagues for Republican candidates in races around the country why, given Trump’s plummeting poll numbers, their candidates don’t try to distance themselves from him, at least a little.
The last 3 months have been a political dumpster fire for President Trump, and the flames have engulfed Republicans up and down the ballot. But while pockets of Republican resistance have roasted Dear Leader, elected officials in D.C. and their svengalis in the consultant class have remained steadfast.
These swamp creatures were never the biggest Trumpers in the first place — his initial campaign team was an assortment of d-listers and golf course grunts rather than traditional GOP ad men. So why, as Trump’s numbers plummet, are these establishment RINOs continuing to debase themselves to protect someone who is politically faltering and couldn’t care less about them?
I reached out to nine of my former allies and rivals who still consult for Republican candidates at the highest levels of Senate and House races, some who have gone full MAGA and others for whom the president is not their cup of tea. I asked them to speak candidly, without their names attached, to learn about the real behind the scenes conversations about the state of affairs. How is the president’s performance impacting their candidate? Are there discussions about either storming the cockpit or gently trying to #WalkAway from Trump? And finally, why in the hell aren’t they more pissed at this incompetent asshole who is fucking up their life?
What I found in their answers was one part Stockholm Syndrome, one part survival instinct. They all may not love the president, but most share his loathing for his enemies on the left, in the media, and the apostate Never Trump Republicans with a passion that engenders an alliance with the president, if not a kinship. And even among those who don’t share the tribalistic hatreds, they perceive a political reality driven by base voters and the president’s shitposting that simply does not allow for dissent.
As one put it: “There are two options, you can be on this hell ship or you can be in the water drowning.”
So I give you the view from the U.S.S Hellship, first the political state of play, and then the psychological.
He goes on to describe their reasoning for not walking away. The problem for them is that while Trump is losing a lot of support in some demographics, which some predict will lead to an “ass kicking in the fall”, he is solidifying or even increasing his support among his core support demographics. One consultant summed up the problem thusly: “There are practical realities — we ran a bunch of red district primaries, and it would come back that the number one issue for 80+% of Republican primary voters was loyalty to Donald Trump. I’m not making that number up.”
Reading Miller’s piece with quotes from these people is both entertaining in how they view Trump with such contempt but depressing in what it says about our current political culture that they cannot repudiate him.
And so they remain passengers on a hell ship with no control over where it takes them. Emotionally tied to a man who shares their enemies, convinced that his ills are outweighed by theirs. Politically chained to a president who has the key to voters they need. Unable and unwilling to attempt to do much of anything about it. And resigned to that fate.
Miller’s article illustrates even more clearly that Trump is now the leader of a cult and like all cults that feel besieged, it raises the walls around itself even higher. The more deranged the behavior of the cult leader, the more his supporters feel the need to rally around and protect him.