Thousands were packed into the hall in Manchester, New Hampshire, last Saturday night. Tune in and look at their faces. Happy, smiling, ready for the show. They know the monologue and all the riffs. “The election was stolen.” “I’m going to give you the largest deportation of aliens in American history.” “Build the wall.” “Drill, baby, drill.” Donald Trump also promises no trans rights or teaching of critical race theory on his watch. The fans know the nicknames of his traitorous opponents (“Ron Desanctimonius”).
A Trump political rally has become a concert, and his adoring fans lip-sync the words just like the Swifties do for Tay-Tay in her arenas. His hold on them is as powerful as Taylor’s on hers.
Most elections, here and in America, are transactional. You vote for the party and candidate who promises to do more of what you want. But Trump’s hold on his base is much deeper than that. It is a movement. It is emotional. Many see it as a cult.
They are welded on to Trump because of what he told his adoring throng in Manchester — just as he has at every rally: “Every time they indict me, I consider it a great badge of honour. I’m being indicted for you, and never forget, our enemies want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedom. They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you. And in the end, they are not after me. They’re after you and I just happen to be standing in the way.”
Ron DeSantis, defeated in Iowa, and Nikki Haley, defeated in Iowa and now New Hampshire, held out their vision of “Trump without the baggage” and “Trump without the chaos.” Both were endorsed by very popular Republican governors in those states. They failed because Trump has “Make America Great Again” brand loyalty. The Republican Trump base — most of whom believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president — does not want New Coke. They want the Real Thing. Trump quenches their America First thirst because Trump is the real thing.
Trump has claimed the Republican presidential nomination. He will formally clinch it when he sweeps on Super Tuesday, March 5, which will deliver him a majority of delegates to the Republican convention in July.
For now, Trump’s objective is to demand loyalty from every elected Republican to endorse his candidacy. Trump will move to end the careers of those who refuse or are silent. DeSantis endorsed Trump when he ended his race. Nikki Haley will do the same. Earlier in their races, both pledged, if they were elected president, to pardon Trump of all pending criminal charges. But even that promise did nothing to make them winners.
Coming soon to a video screen near you is the next episode of The Apprentice. Who will Trump choose to be his vice president? Expect a parade for screen tests at Mar-a-Lago. We know this: loyalty will be demanded by Trump and unquestioned loyalty will be given to Trump.
A woman will be preferred because Trump has a significant female voter problem. Elise Stefanik, No. 4 in the House Republican leadership, has shown exceptional fealty to Trump, as have Arizona’s Kari Lake (now running for the Senate) and South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem. None of them appear capable of doing what vice president Mike Pence did on January 6, 2021: refuse a demand by president Trump to overturn the election. Trump knows it, and they know it.
Other possibles include Tim Scott, the black senator from South Carolina. A Tim Scott-Kamala Harris televised VP debate would set a ratings record. Senator JD Vance of Ohio, who Trump backed enthusiastically, has been a stalwart for Trump on Capitol Hill.
But even as Trump has been King Kong in this campaign, a significant vulnerability has been exposed. Yes, Trump crushed the field. But in the first two competitive primaries, while Trump got over 50 per cent of the vote, there were still 40 per cent-plus who did not vote for him. Many DeSantis and Haley voters will fall into line. But expert analysts of the party show that 10 per cent of Republicans are never-Trumpers. Another 30 per cent have voted twice for Trump, in 2016 and 2020, but are open this year, principally on the issue of Trump’s fitness for office.
If Biden can attract a measurable margin of disaffected Republican voters in key swing states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia – this could offset the falloff in support he is experiencing from key Democratic groups, especially younger voters. Abortion rights will also be a powerful driver of Republican votes to Biden and the Democrats.
Trump never broke 50 per cent approval during his presidency or in the years since. He was a minority president. He is the Divider-in-Chief. This year, in courtrooms across the country, he is the Defendant-in-Chief. As the reality of Trump’s being the nominee and poised to return to the White House finally sinks in big time – as it is doing at this very moment – Biden needs every edge within his grasp.