Donald Trump thinks his voters are morons. This universal truth was once again demonstrated this week by a Facebook ad working Trump’s new statue-oriented campaign strategy. The ad declared, “WE WILL PROTECT THIS” and featured a photo of … no, not some racist-loser Confederate general astride a horse but “Cristo Redentor,” the famous statue of Jesus Christ that sits atop Mount Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, which, for those keeping track, is not in the United States but in Brazil, a sovereign nation in a different continent.
It’s small story in the grand scheme of things, but one that illustrates yet again that Trump doesn’t really see Republican voters or politicians as fellow travelers, allies or even really as a “base” to whom he owes fealty. Trump sees Republicans primarily as marks, to be fleeced for all they’re worth and then abandoned the second he sees no value in them. Trump’s burning hatred for any American who didn’t vote for him is well documented, but just as true and just as disturbing is his utter disregard for the lives or well-being of people who did support him, and continue to do so.
Recent months have borne this out in remarkable ways, starting, of course, with the way that Trump’s pressure on Republican governors to end coronavirus restrictions prematurely has led to exactly the consequences he was warned about: People in those states are getting sick at eye-popping rates. In Florida, where Trumpian Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed hard to reopen no matter how many people die, ICUs are quickly filling up, with 56 reporting themselves at capacity and another 35 right on their heels. Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has been similarly Trump-pleasing in his rush to reopen, is setting record highs for viral transmission, with upwards of 10,000 positive tests reported in a day.
Trump has been pushing the currently low rates of death as evidence that these rapidly climbing transmission numbers don’t much matter, but in truth, death rates are a lagging indicator. There’s every reason to believe that lower death rates are the result of the plunging transmission rates we saw several weeks ago, after months of lockdown, and that deaths will start to climb once again with so many people now getting sick.
But Trump and his propagandists are going full speed ahead, embracing coronavirus denialism and encouraging Trump supporters to return to church, reject mask-wearing and stop social distancing. He keeps encouraging his followers to attend campaign rallies unmasked, even though that’s the easiest way to get coronavirus. It’s almost as if Trump wants his followers to get sick and die. It’s inarguable that he doesn’t care if they do.
Trump is so unconcerned about his own voters that he can’t even muster the pretense of caring in the cases where harm to them is also harm to him.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that “Trump’s relentless attacks on the security of mail voting are driving suspicion among GOP voters toward absentee ballots,” which is alarming to “Republican strategists, who say it could undercut their own candidates, including Trump himself.”
The sheep-like loyalty that Trump so values in his supporters is starting to backfire seriously. Whatever Trump’s purpose in constantly whining that absentee ballots are “rigged” (likely setting up an excuse to reject the election results in November), the result is that “GOP campaigns around the country are hearing from more and more Republican voters who say they do not trust absentee ballots,” putting Republicans at a disadvantage in elections where large numbers of voters will vote by mail in order to avoid coronavirus risks at the polls.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the multitude of ways that the Republican Party itself is paying for their embrace of Trump, especially since Republican senators had the chance to throw him out of the White House earlier this year after he was impeached for abuse of power. Trump’s incompetence and indifference, even malice, toward the public’s welfare is proving to be a real threat to Republicans running down-ballot races in 2020.
“Every shred of evidence points to a likely ass-kicking in the fall,” a Republican consultant told Tim Miller of Rolling Stone, when asked about the GOP’s down ballot races in November.
In FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregator, Democrats are up by 9 points over Republicans overall in congressional race polling, an even bigger spread than they had in 2018, when Democrats flipped 40 House seats in a midterm “blue wave.”
Trump is wildly unpopular, but Republican candidates, Miller found, feel they can’t “strategically distance themselves” from Trump without “facing a mutiny within the ranks” of GOP voters, who have remained fiercely loyal to Trump, and in fact, seem to be clinging harder to their orange leader rather than face the humiliation as admitting the liberals were right all along. Republicans can’t win without building a coalition of moderate voters and fierce Trump loyalists, but in this particular election, they are being forced to choose.
Trump could spare his party from this electoral Sophie’s choice. All he’d need to do is dial down the racism instead of cranking it up, or stop fighting efforts to contain the pandemic, instead of acting like he’s the coronavirus’ biggest champion. But it’s clear he has no intention of doing either, and he doesn’t care if the result means electoral defeat for many of the people who have been kissing his ring for four years. Trump, after all, notoriously expects loyalty while offering none in return.
That much is evident in the way that Trump screwed the GOP over royally on the Republican National Convention by forcing a last-minute location change from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida.
Trump’s reasoning was reliably narcissistic and childish. He didn’t like that North Carolina, under Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, requires people to wear masks in public spaces to prevent coronavirus spread, because he thinks masks ruin his campaign photos. So he pulled out of Charlotte and moved to a city that has inadequate hotel space, adding to the indignations that must be endured as the price of being a Trump supporter.
Moreover, the move screwed the party out of a ton of money. The New York Times reported over the weekend that the GOP has already spent $38 million on the Charlotte convention, money that they’re not getting back. Unsurprisingly, trying to tap the same donors to bankroll yet another convention in a different city is turning out to be quite a task, and not just because Trump’s capricious mismanagement of funds. Surging coronavirus cases in Florida — city government in Jacksonville is now requiring masks too — are causing donors to be wary of convention 2.0, and they’re responding by keeping their wallets shut.
Not that Trump cares about any of the suffering he’s inflicting on Republican voters, organizers or politicians as the price they pay for supporting him. On the contrary, he’s such a sociopathic narcissist that he probably gets off on the way Republicans keep swallowing his abuse and asking for more. An ass-kicking in November may well be coming, and Trump will make sure his followers suffer even more along the way.