As the President’s support hovers below 40 percent, as Republicans in Congress scrape bottom at around 10 percent, we have Judge Moore as the centerfold of the current, long overdue uproar over sexual harassment. And Trump has shot down every attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to avoid the election of a creep.
McConnell and other GOP leaders are naturally nervous about alienating women even more than they already have, so they want desperately to have Moore just go away. They had hoped to pull that off in a way that would keep the seat Republican, but Moore has refused to cooperate, Governor Ivey (R) has refused to cooperate, and Donald Trump is all in for Moore (“he denies it!”).
We can certainly see why Trump, also credibly accused of sexual harassment which he also denies, would want to support Moore on that basis alone. The precedent of a candidacy derailed by such charges would obviously be bad for Trump.
Moreover, Moore’s loss at this point would reduce the GOP Senate majority to just one, and likely doom the rest of Trump’s legislative agenda, including the big tax cuts now on the table. So short-term legislative tactics trump the GOP’s strategic dilemma regarding women (and sensitive men) posed by Moore’s penetration of the caucus.
Trump is unique in American political history in that, having reached the pinnacle of power with minority support, he has also made no serious effort to expand his base.
But there is more here than Justice Moore. Trump is unique in American political history in that, having reached the pinnacle of power with minority support, he has also made no serious effort to expand his base. Instead, at every opportunity he chooses the option that will reaffirm his link to his base, even at the cost of further alienating everyone else. This contrasts with every prior case. For example, both Reagan and George W. Bush were elected with narrow bases (Bush’s was a minority of voters), but both moved to attract people who hadn’t voted for them.
Trump would be embarrassed to admit this, but his strategy has much in common with the European Right, which can, with proportional representation and parliamentary systems, use a minority base to reach substantial influence on the national scene by having a chunk of seats in parliament. But American presidents need majority support to be effective. Trump hopes to prove that maxim wrong.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows 44 percent of respondents strongly disapprove of Trump’s job performance, while only 17 percent strongly approve. Trump has made himself a hostage to his base: any move he makes to appeal to a broader public will gain him little or nothing in broader support, while it risks undermining his base support.
The party as a whole is also in this box, and that helps explain why members of Congress have been so reluctant to challenge Trump. It’s the base that turns out in the primaries, and most members have little to worry about in general elections if they can win their primaries. In the House, that’s because of gerrymandering; in the Senate it’s because the majority of states are safe for one or the other party.
Trump is gambling that, with just his base, he can replicate the Electoral College victory of 2016. The party is gambling that gerrymandering will hold the House and a favorable reelection calendar (the Democrats are defending far more seats in 2018) can hold the Senate. But when 55 percent of voters disapprove the sitting President, the odds don’t favor either Trump or the Republicans.
A base man; a base party: they have nowhere to go but down.