White House veteran reveals key to Trumpism: 'He’s psychologically and emotionally unwell — and his supporters are too’
Supporters rally behind President Donald Trump during an October 2016 event. Image via Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore.

A White House veteran explained why President Donald Trump's emotional instability has infected his supporters and the Republican Party, which is now captive to those psychological problems.

Peter Wehner, who served in the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations, explained in a New York Times column why Republicans are unable to break away from Trump, despite his escalating violations of constitutional and political norms.

"There's been so many red lines that have been crossed," Wehner told MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "You know, in the piece I talk about the psychology of accommodation. That is that people two and a half years ago could never have envisioned themselves to be acolytes of Donald Trump (but) that's how psychology works."

Understanding Trump's hold over the GOP is less about politics than psychology, he said.

"There's a central thing to think about the Trump presidency, the Rosetta Stone, in a sense, is that he's psychologically and emotionally unwell," Wehner said. "I think if you don't understand (that) all that's unfolded during the course of his presidency doesn't make sense. But if you understand that, it does begin to make sense."

"It's not only the psychology of Donald Trump, it's the psychology of his supporters, too, of how they have invested in him early on," he continued. "Once they've done that, they got to the point where condemning him would become a condemnation of them, and they couldn't really do that. I think for all of us who have spent our life in politics, maybe the thing that's most important now is less politics than psychology."

Public support for impeachment has jumped since last week, but so far Republicans have shown few signs of abandoning Trump, despite the growing political risk.

"I guess that they never felt that they could take the exit ramp," Wehner said. "I do believe that the problem, in some respects, is not simply Donald Trump, it's the base of the party. He has a hold on the party which is almost unlike anything I've ever seen, and the Republican members of Congress aren't fools in the sense that they know that if they speak up against him they will be the target of a vicious campaign."

"It was true of Mark Sanford, it was true of Jeff Flake, and it was true of Bob Corker," he continued. "So for them to get off the train -- because you and I know, we've talked to these people privately, they know what's unfolding, but they feel like that the base of their party is against them."

"That said, you know, at some point you see this catastrophe that is unfolding and is now at this point almost inevitable," he added. "It's not even conservatism anymore, it's some weird brand of a kind of ethic nationalism."