75

Given that Donald Trump lost the recent Presidential election, why is it that congressmen continue to visit Mar-A-Lago? In what way is Donald Trump a power broker? What is it that congressmen seek from Donald Trump?

I realize that this is a forum for politics and that in itself is charged by its very nature. That being said, the superior answer will posit a plausible hypothesis with references for support. Questions that seek to clarify the subject matter are appreciated.

0
94
+50

It's worth pointing out that Trump is not a 'leader' in the normal, political sense of the term, and his power doesn't lie in typical sociopolitical authority. Trump is (to borrow someone else's analogy) the Golden Idol that a certain segment of American society bows down to. They carry him before them as an icon and cry out that he is their leader, but Trump doesn't do the things we expect of a leader: set paths and agendas, create rules and order, provide structure, clarity, and direction. Trump effectively does nothing except rally his followers: stir them up and incite them to act out on their own (often problematic) impulses. Trump didn't start the movement, or organize it, or define it; he merely 'licensed his brand' to it, giving a diffuse and disorganized movement a banner to rally around. He seemingly has no interest in what they rally for so long as they rally around him, so he leaves it up to people in the movement to define what the movement is in his name.

All things considered, Trump isn't much different from Q, except that there is a flesh-and-blood person somewhere behind the iconography of Trump (a person we don't know much about, because he consistently hides himself behind media and legal facades), while there is no such specific person behind the iconography of Q (who as far as anyone can tell is simply made-up). But both icons serve the same purpose of being a rallying point around which groups can organize themselves. It doesn't really make sense to ask what power Trump has over the GOP, any more than it makes sense to ask what power any charismatic leader holds. The concept of a 'charismatic leader' is ultimately empty and oxymoronic. A charismatic leader is like a man on horseback who drops the reins and uses the spurs; the horse thinks it's being guided by the rider, the rider enjoys the thrill of charging pell-mell onward, but the rider isn't in control and the horse would behave the same for anyone who dropped the reins and used the spurs. It's a symbiotic, almost parasitic relationship.

The power Trump has (to follow this analogy) is merely the power to trample: to point his followers at someone and dig in the spurs, and let the sheer weight of all that unconstrained animal energy crush the target. It creates an odd and unhealthy dynamic:

  • Some of the GOP leadership want to avoid being trampled, so they play cautiously around Trump out of fear; they try to anticipate what things might tick Trump off and tiptoe around them
  • Others in the GOP leadership want to direct that animal energy at targets of their own. Unlike Trump, these leaders have real political motivations and machinations — they want to use that energy productively; not in the 'raw' way Trump does — and so they actively put themselves in the position of interpreting the word of Trump for followers

This is why people like McCarthy and Graham spend so much time visiting and talking to Trump, while others avoid him and speak about him in hushed tones. The former want to establish themselves as intimates of Trump — in other words, as people who can present themselves as though they speak in Trump's voice — while the latter merely want to make it through to their next term without pain and complications.

As to the Trumpist base...I know I've been using a lot of religious ideation here (which shouldn't surprise people who look at the events of the last four years, but probably does), so apologies, but the base grants Trump this 'power to trample' because it wants salvation. The Right has been evolving into a 'grievance culture' since (at least) the '80s. It has developed a persistently angry sense of victimization — particularly among white Christian males — because it suffered a string of legal and political setbacks, with an associated implication of guilt and shame. Feminism pointed out the abuses that men have historically leveled against women; the civil rights movement highlighted the abuses whites have visited on blacks; the native American genocide, the failure of Christian theology to stand up against evolution, the comparative economic failure of rural blue-collar workers compared to urban and suburban white-collars, the destruction of the environment by selfish and gluttonous consumption... All this burden of shame was pushed onto the shoulders of a certain conservative segment of American society, but rather than face up to it they sought to negate it: to find someone who could save them from that pressure of guilt and shame. That's what Trump provided. He told them they were good people; he told them that the bad people were the ones making them feel such guilt; he told them they had nothing to feel shame over, because it was all lies by nasty people and a lying media, but he knew the truth and only he could save them (make them great again). They bought into it because they wanted to buy into it, because not buying into it meant they would have to accept the changing face of the US and the load of shame that accompanied it. But they would have bought it from anyone who offered it; Trump just cornered the market first. But like any other faith, once one has bought into the soteriology it is extremely difficult to leave, because the salvation of one's entire identity rides on it.

21
  • 9
    I am very torn by this answer. On the one hand I think many of the insights are relatively accurate, though I feel it would have been better to focus on 'nationalism' then religious analog for your early examples. However, there are too many biases in phrasing and choice for least appealing analogy when referring to Trump to turn me off due to my inerrant dislike of biased answers (I'm okay with facts, like Qanon was likely 4-6 different people, that can be backed by studies or fact checking, that's different!) I'd love this answer if some of the clear hatred of trump were reigned in. – dsollen Mar 2 at 20:50
  • 17
    @dsollen: I find this 'hatred' meme fascinating. If you knew me (which you don't), you'd know I'm not given to the emotion 'hatred'. I've been accused at times (fairly) of being coldly, bitterly analytical, but looking over my answer I'm not at all certain what phrases trigger the impression of 'hatred'. I don't respect Trump, and I have a fairly low opinion of his abilities and capacities, but that's all justified empirically by his express behavior and attitude. If he tried harder to be respectable, he'd get more respect. He's not 'due' a d_mned thing from me otherwise... – Ted Wrigley Mar 2 at 21:09
  • 7
    @dsollen: To the point: show me what you think is excessive 'hatred' not attributable to Trump's own protracted efforts to make himself disrespectable; I'm open to changing things where I've gone overboard. But if this 'hatred' meme merely means you're don't like that I portray Trump in an unflattering light, well... I'm not really interested in flattering anyone or anything. I can probably make my writing more gentle, but I'm not going to make it less evocative. – Ted Wrigley Mar 2 at 21:16
  • 6
    @dsollen: I'm not sure I can say anything that is perceived as unflattering about Trump (or any beloved public figure) without someone deciding that I'm being hateful and spiteful; that's the nature of this particular beast. But it won't hurt me to reflect on it a bit, and see if I can smooth it out a little. – Ted Wrigley Mar 2 at 21:58
  • 6
    @FoxMulder: Conservatives have been making strange and ridiculous stories about Biden, Obama, and Clinton for a long, long time now. Remember birtherism? Bengazi? The email server? Pizzagate? The difference is the conservatives seem to be extremely bad story-tellers, popping out things that are barely credible, catastrophizing things that are hardly noteworthy, and glaringly refusing to provide evidence or substantive reasoning for any of it. What I wrote here is quite credible, fits the observable evidence, and doesn't rely on any patently absurd premises. sorry, but you'll have to deal... – Ted Wrigley Mar 6 at 3:30
52

Donald Trump's influence on the Republican Party remains very strong because the vast majority of Republican-leaning voters remain convinced that Donald Trump did not lose the election. (For example, this report on a post January 6 poll had three quarters of Republican leaning voters not thinking Biden had won the election. Poll after poll have shown similar numbers.) Even Mitt Romney, a long-time opponent of Donald Trump, has said that Donald Trump currently is the presumptive Republican candidate for the 2024 election.

While Trump did lose the 2020 election, he did manage to get more people to vote for him than has any previous Republican candidate, including himself in the 2016 election. (Trump received 11 million more votes in 2020 than in 2016.) Trump has attracted a huge number of previously disaffected right-leaning voters. That he also has turned off a huge number of previously disaffected left-leaning voters is perhaps irrelevant; those people might not vote in future elections. Trump's apparent ability to make those previously disaffected right-leaning voters be permanent voters is part of what makes people view him as a power broker.

18
  • 6
    Nothing wrong with this answer, but it would be more complete with a note about the primary election system in the US and relevant to the Congress representatives, how many are in a skewed district such that their biggest threat is not the general election but the Republican primary. – Damila Feb 28 at 3:51
  • 102
    I think that the belief about the election is a symptom, not a cause. The base believes the election was fraudulent because they are loyal to Trump, not the other way around, and the party listens to Trump because the base is loyal in him, not because they believe his swill about the election. – Arcanist Lupus Feb 28 at 6:12
  • 5
    The fact he is still eligible to run again is almost certainly a factor. – Jontia Feb 28 at 10:00
  • 28
    Note that getting more people to vote for him is down to two things: there were of course more eligible voters in 2020 than any previous election, and a higher percentage of those voted than in any Presidential election since 1960. So by the same logic, he got a lot more people to vote AGAINST him than any previous candidate :-) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – jamesqf Feb 28 at 17:49
  • 8
    I think this misrepresents Romney's position in this issue a bit. His position that he believes Trump will win a candidacy again in 2024 is a comment regarding what he thinks the Republican base thinks of Trump, not that he supports the idea that Biden didn't win the election. To give credit where it's due, among major Republicans leader, I think he's one of the only ones that has openly and unambiguously said that Trump was defeated in 2020 legitimately and never supported the election fraud narrative. And he's been consistent on that AFAICT. – Lie Ryan Mar 1 at 12:56
37

Primaries, primaries, primaries.

While David's answer is correct, any Trump run in 2024 would also remobilize the never-Trumpers so the overall advantage is uncertain.

However the US POTUS, and Congress, elections require candidates to first get past the hurdle of the most partisan voters of their party, be it Dem or Rep.

Right now, most really, really, committed Republicans back Trump. Simple as that. That's what all those "90% still back Trump" polls say, even as, even in places like Fox News comments - scroll to end, see up/down votes by stance, Jan 5th, 2021, his diehard supporters get pushback when they try to spin his election ramblings.

Comes a primary, chances are, unless the Republican party takes a hard stance against, Trump supporters are either going to vote Trump or whoever is backed by Trump. Anyone not anointed by Trump, from today's political calculus, risks being ousted. That may change over time, but it is a very real risk today. More exactly, anyone who gets targeted by one of Trump's infantile "So-and-so is a very bad man. Sad." tweets, or whatever mechanism he'll use to replace it, will get piled on by the faithful. And Trump is so irascible and over-sensitive that anything can set him off. Hence all the ring-kissing to avoid getting on his bad side.

As suggested by Fizz, here's an example of Trump turning against a Republican he didn't like anymore, Jeff Sessions, his erstwhile Attorney General, who'd lost his favor. Or Mark Sanford, who criticized him (and who admittedly had other skeletons in his closet).*

A "hard stance against Trump", whether or not some Republicans would like it to happen, risks splitting the party and thus losing to the Dems. The Republican party seems roughly at 48% and can win, given electoral college and creative redistricting. It can't if 20% of its voters don't vote or back splinter candidates. Thus, a principled stance means losing at least one, possibly more, electoral cycles until the Trump voters cool off.

It's happened before. In 2016, anyone reasonably mainstream in the Rep party got primary-ditched early on and Ted Cruz, Mr. Abortion-is-wrong-in-case-of-rape was last man standing before Trump won.

Lest you see it as a Republican disease, from which the Democrats are immune, look at Sander's foray into the primaries twice, pulling the party leftwards, even as he's not even a Democrat.

Primaries motivate the uncompromising members of both parties. Right now, for Republicans, there is no one more uncompromising than a Trump who has lost. And his backers.

The one good thing in all this? January 6th, 2021 will forever be attack-ad-gold against Trump and his backers. By Democrats. By Republicans.

* And before you argue that he was just doing the principled thing with regards to Sanford, look how long it took him to ditch Roy Moore in Alabama.

2
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – CDJB Mar 1 at 16:59
  • 4
    +1 A good example would be how Jeff Sessions got primaried and lost to a political outsider backed by Trump, who called Sessions "the biggest mistake of his presidency" (for having him as his GA) and some more obvious insults that I'll omit here nbcnews.com/politics/elections/… – Fizz Mar 2 at 11:26
18

Putting the answer jamesqf wrote in a comment into words. Trump has so much power over the Republican party because the Republican voter base loves him. Remember, ultimately in a democracy, it is what the voter base votes for that becomes reality. Regardless of whether a politician is currently elected or not, they (in principle) need to do what their voters want. Someone who runs on a pro-college platform for example cannot just switch to anti-college once elected.

(More accurately they can, but their reputations would be ruined and their voter base will not vote for them next time there's an election.)

Note this isn't a bug with democracy, but rather a feature. If the majority of the population is pro-college, then democracy means the country should also be pro-college. It's exactly what democracy should do. An individual politician can resist this temporarily, but they will be voted out, a pro-college politician will be elected, and the country will implement pro-college policies.

Currently, Trump is the most popular choice for Republican voters. A poll in February 2021 gave him a 54% vote share among Republican voters should a hypothetical 2024 presidential primary election be held now. Accordingly, he wields soft power over the Republican party, and his endorsement is very lucrative if one's aim is to get elected. This might change someday if the Republican voter base starts supporting someone else, but it's still the case today.

If you are asking why Republican voters continue to support Trump, that's a different question.

10
  • 5
    Where the possible "bug" comes in is that right now only about 1/4 of Americans identify as Republican (same with the Democratic party, but this question isn't about them). 54% support of that is only about 14%. So we have a situation where much substantial legislation can't pass through the US Senate due to the views of a strategic 14% of US voters. I of course say "possible bug" because some people consider inaction a good thing. – T.E.D. Mar 2 at 14:20
  • 1
    Someone ran a "my opponent is a crook, lock her up" campaign, after being elected immediately changed to "that's not necessary any more", and it didn't really hurt his vote much at the next election. – Jasen Mar 3 at 4:03
  • @T.E.D. I wonder what percentage of the 3/4 who do not identify as Republican feel the way they do not because Trump turned them away, but rather because they feel Republicans didn't back Trump enough. Do they not want to call themselves Republican because Republicans are too Trump-like or because Republicans are not Trump-like enough? – Ryan_L Mar 3 at 6:35
  • 1
    @Ryan_L - Way OT, but one can look at historical trends on that link I provided and make inferences. The highest they ever were since Trump got the nomination in 2016 is 31%, but 25% is right on the lower end of their normal range. Looking back, he actually hasn't seemed to have a very noticeable affect on their party ID. Its more like this is who they've been since mid-Obama, and he just is reflecting that. – T.E.D. Mar 3 at 13:06
  • 3
    "Someone who runs on a pro-college platform for example cannot just switch to anti-college once elected." Isn't that what Trump did though? During the campaign Trump claimed he was going to eliminate the federal debt in 10 years or sooner. It increased by around 50% under Trump. And it wasn't just after Covid hit. It went from flat to increasing in his first year of office. I just don't think you can really explain his presidency as politics as usual. His base doesn't seem to care what he does or doesn't do. – JimmyJames Mar 3 at 21:12
10

Because he represents more Anti-Left than supporting traditional Right policies.

I as a foreigner , have wondered this myself. Trump is very far from traditional right in terms of policies. Conservatism is usually divided into three items. Stability, religious morality, and conservative spending. He spent a lot more than many presidents and wasn't really religious/ morally suited at all and still kept a war going.

American Election system has allowed for winner takes all and tribalism to take control to quickly judge the opposing side.

Americans (the left and right) have created religious leaders and this has lead to some odd tribalism . I think this stems from the election process where only popular candidates have been elected and middle agreeably politicians have been thrown away. The problem with this is you get extremes both sides and people will hold to 20% of their values being representative rather than admit they are wrong. This also leads to seeing the other side of having 80% opposing values and grouping people based on poor representation of those values. This is considering most people are probably very middle and there isn't representation for them.

Many Americans are tired of left policies and wanted to retaliate in some way and Trump is the embodiment of fighting the left. Many if were to chose a president which would hold certain values wouldn't vote for trump, but simply voting for Trump is one of spite against the left system.

I think ultimately people created fear of the opposing tribe and were tired of current policies and Trump was the spite that they wanted to send to the other tribe.

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. The chatroom allows for more back and forth discussion. Please try to limit comments to suggesting improvements to the answer and use the chat room if you want to discuss the broader subject. – JJJ Mar 3 at 14:40
4

Much is due simply to him wanting to. Any ex-leader could pull the spotlight, but everyone else chooses not to for the good of the party.

Any President is automatically the head of the party. A popular former president still has a great deal of influence as far as endorsements. Even a former candidate such as Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney matters as someone once chosen to lead the party. Most are aware of this and are careful. Obama didn't endorse anyone (for president). Clinton knew she'd have a strong shot at the 2020 nomination, but might be a weak candidate so early on ruled out a run to let in new blood. Likewise, Biden, as the former VP ("it's Obama's Dad!"), waited 3 extra months to enter the 2020 race after no-one had pulled ahead.

Over to Trump, he flipped parties, mostly Democratic, until 2010, and gladly breaks Reagan's 11th commandment "thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican". What does he care about seeing the Republican party be strong for generations to come, and so on? A normal distinguished former president supports rising stars, and gives them room to grow. Why would he do that? After the Tea Party (and the election of Trump) the Republican party is in a bit of a crisis, making it easier for him to keep attention, but otherwise he's not doing anything that any other ex-leader could do, but doesn't.

2
  • "Much is due simply to him wanting to." I want to have power over Democrats. Doesn't make it so. He had power over them before he was their ex-leader or even their leader. Trump's been a Republican before 2010 as well, at least as early as 1987 when he registered as one. – TylerH Mar 2 at 21:13
  • 2
    @TylerH I'm addressing the narrow Q -- however he did it, he's an ex-president popular with his party. Given that, in Feb. 2021 how does he have influence? I cleaned up the "not a republican" sentence. FYI he changed party again in 1989. – Owen Reynolds Mar 3 at 5:29
-1

The answers were not too complicate to pin point. 1) The congressmen, who is interested in running in 2022, will not stay away from a person who can gather/draw both money and voters. 2) See response point 1. 3) See response point 1.

While Donald Trump has lost the election, but by no means it was a landslide defeat of him, nor the Republican Party. Actually the Republican has even gained a few seats in the House, while suffer marginal loss in the Senate. This indicates Donald Trump still has huge support from his primary base - the Republican voters, so he remains a formidable political force.

Another reason is his continued fighting for returning. Unlike typical former Presidents, whom have mostly kept a low profile, and stayed away from the general public, but it is not something expected out of Donald Trump. Image what he will do, if FB and Twitter decide to reinstall his account?

So for the better chance of winning, those congressmen must stay close to Mar-A-Logo, the non-official Republican power center. At least till 2022.

Report below at least support part of my response regarding "voters/votes".

(CNN) A lot of critics of former President Donald Trump want GOP senators to "show some spine." They think the big reason they have stayed with Trump through impeachment is because they're scared of him. There's good reason to be worried about going against Trump, given how popular he is among the Republican base. But I'd argue this explanation is at least somewhat incomplete. A lot of GOP senators may be willing to vote with Trump because they aren't against him. They, like their voters, may really like him and his policies or believe he didn't commit an impeachable offense. This theory is probably hard for a lot of Trump critics to take, but it does make sense. Trump retrospective approval ratings remain in the 80s with Republicans. A lot of Republican lawmakers are likely reflected in that high approval rating. ...

Either way, Republican senators realize that Trump remains a powerful force within the party. Trump's actually the favorite for the 2024 presidential nomination. He is easily leading all primary polls. As I previously noted, Trump is in the best position of any former one-term president in the polling era looking to reclaim his party's presidential nomination. There is little reason to believe Trump won't try to take advantage of these numbers. He loves the limelight and the adoring crowds. Soon enough, Trump will probably be on the campaign trail.

7
  • I think the nay sayer owe this post a clear explanation on his/her negative feeling towards the content. It would be appreciated that any incorrectness in the writing is kindly pointed out. Thanks. – r13 Mar 14 at 0:46
  • It wasn't me, but I think I know why. I can see what you were trying to say, and it makes sense and is mostly true (IMO) but the answer itself is somewhat misleading. – Nai54 Mar 15 at 22:15
  • One way to fiix this would be to (a) add sources. This is a big one. If you can link to credible sources that can back you up, then you have solved one big issue in your answer. – Nai54 Mar 15 at 22:16
  • Another thing you can do is (b) elaborate. Your answer is so short and brief that it doesn't capture the full aspect of the question and hurts what you have written. For example, you should elaborate on the sentence: Image what he will do, if FB and Twitter decide to reinstall his account? because it sounds very opinionated and open to interpretation. – Nai54 Mar 15 at 22:16
  • And finally, I would suggest to (c) broaden your look -- meaning that you should approach this problem with a more bipartisan look, where you consider all the aspects of this very open-ended question. – Nai54 Mar 15 at 22:21
-6

He has influence because the left keeps vilifying him. As long as they keep bringing him up, he is relevant. I’d say that at least half of his influence at the moment comes from his second impeachment. It will wain until NY inevitably finds something they can at least spin as a crime from his taxes, that will raise him back into relevancy yet again. Expect the same thing when/if they try to invoke the 14th accusing him of insurrection as some have called for.

In today’s world influence comes from one of two things, money and popularity. He has money, the attacks on him raise his popularity. Hell, it’s how he got elected in the first place, the more he survives being attacked, the more popular he becomes.

16
  • 16
    I feel like you’re missing some critical point here. He’s powerful because he’s under criminal investigation? – divibisan Mar 1 at 0:21
  • 9
    How is "the left" vilifying him any more than those of us who occupy the center? Or indeed, places somewhat to the right of center? – jamesqf Mar 1 at 4:02
  • 19
    @jmoreno: But what if your political opponents actually ARE criminals? Even apart from acts related to his attempted coup, he certainly seems to have a lot of potentially indictable offenses related to his financial dealings. – jamesqf Mar 1 at 4:06
  • 15
    I'm not sure anyone on the left invited him to CPAC. – Jontia Mar 1 at 9:25
  • 16
    If you think that ignoring Trump's crimes and spread of disinformation is going to make him less visible to his base, you are most definitely wrong. He's been elevated to essentially a godhead in their eyes. The only people he'd fall off the radar for is everyone else, so that his base would be allowed to grow unchecked by facts, and the law in some/many cases, and would end up being even worse later on. "Silence is the voice of complicity." – computercarguy Mar 1 at 17:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .