I’ve been arguing in this space for months that the accession of Donald Trump to the Republican nomination – and major conservative voices not merely voting for him, but dutifully falling into line behind him – would corrupt conservatism.
It’s happening in real time.
This week, for example, Donald Trump praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin again for being both stronk like bool! and also not that bad a fella. Trump denied that Putin stood behind hacks against American institutions, and then suggested that Obama had done similarly bad things. That isn’t the first time that Trump has done this routine; last year, he shrugged off Putin’s murder of opposing journalists by saying the United States did bad things, too. And his defenders defended him.
In March 2014, a YouGov/Economist poll found that 13 percent of Democrats were favorable towards Putin, compared with 68 percent unfavorable; 17 percent of Republicans were favorable toward Putin, compared with 72 percent unfavorable. That leaves a -55 percent gap with Democrats, and a -55 percent gap with Republicans.
Fast forward two years. In an August 2016 YouGov/Economist poll, 24 percent of Republican voters said they were favorable toward Putin, as opposed to 51 percent who said they were unfavorable. Putin’s favorability gap has dropped from -55 percent to -27 percent.
Is that because of Trumpism? Indeed it is: 32 percent of Trump primary voters were favorable toward Putin, with just 55 percent unfavorable, as opposed to just 15 percent favorability for Putin among those who opposed Trump in the primaries, compared with 76 percent unfavorability.
Among self-described Democrats, 13 percent said they were favorable; among independents, that number was 16 percent. In other words, Americans are equally likely to dislike Putin…unless they support Trump.
It’s not just on Putin.
On the crucial issue of free trade, Republicans have completely flipped thanks to Trumpism.
In December 2013, a Pew poll found that 74 percent of Republicans thought increased international trade and business ties would be good for the United States; 83 percent of Democrats agreed. Similarly, a February 2014 Gallup poll
Fast forward two years. A March 2016 Pew poll shows that while 51 percent of Americans still think free trade deals are a good thing for the country, just 38 percent of Republicans now do, compared with 53 percent who think they are a bad thing. That’s again due to Trump supporters, 67 percent of whom said that free trade agreements have been bad for the United States, as opposed to just 27 percent who say they’ve been good. A 48 percent plurality of Cruz voters favored free trade, by contrast. Among Democrats, support for free trade has been consistent: 56 percent of Democrats said they like free trade agreements, as opposed to just 34 percent opposing.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Trump himself is the leading factor in this shift – the support for Trumpism obviously existed prior to Trump’s rise. But he’s been the catalyzing agent. And now, for at least a segment of the Republican base, he’s the idol to be worshipped, as campaign manager Kellyanne Conway put it this morning on Twitter:
He’s built a movement and people are proud to be a part of it. When you insult him, you insult them. https://t.co/Vd7N6Ao6ZE
— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) September 9, 2016
This is dangerous, whether it comes from the right or the left. It’s the same sort of sentiment that led black voters to flip on the issue of same-sex marriage because Barack Obama did, rather than based on principle. Leaders change the minds of their followers. And Trump is the leader Republicans chose.