Trump knows he's losing a grip on his base
From taking a knee to the Confederate flag, some are jumping ship while Trump doubles down.
It was pretty stunning to see NASCAR — an emblem of Donald Trump’s core support — decide this week to ban the Confederate flag from all events and properties.
It shouldn’t be stunning, of course, because the flag is a symbol of white supremacy. But Trump world has embraced it for years, because, well, they embrace white supremacists. The action came days after the only black NASCAR driver, Bubba Wallace, wore a t-shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” and a NASCAR official, Kirk Price, who is black, took a knee during the national anthem.
For perhaps the first time since his presidency began, Trump, in the wake of the enormous response to George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, is seeing some in his own base — and the icons and institutions that demarcate his base — appearing to pull away from him, at least on the issue of police brutality against African-Americans but perhaps on more.
And he knows it, because he’s fighting hard to keep the battle lines where they’d been since his presidency began, doubling down. On the same day that NASCAR banned the Confederate flag, Trump came out against renaming Army bases that had been named for Confederate generals, squashing an effort within the Army itself to rename the bases.
Last week, when the New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees reversed himself and said he supported NFL players taking a knee at games, Trump lashed out on Twitter while still delicately — for Trump — trying to be respectful of a popular sports star who has his own massive following.
But Brees shot back, firmer in his decision, adding: “We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. If not now, when? We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities.”
These cultural battles stoked by Trump are often seen as superficial and distracting by many, but for Trump they are the way he draws the lines: you’re either with me or against me. That’s why he sees such actions by entities and people like NASCAR and Brees as enormously threatening right now.
His instinct is to send the message even harder — he attacked a 75-year-old Buffalo protester who’s in the hospital with a severe head injury after being pushed to the ground by police, promoting a conspiracy theory that the man was faking it — to make it clear that anyone on the other side of these issues is an enemy. In the past, he’s counted on his base fully joining him, demonizing those who would cross him. But that doesn’t seem so clear now.
NASCAR is bigger than him, and its devoted fans aren’t going to give it up over Trump. More importantly, the massive and multi-racial protests have underscored a big shift in the American public, including among white people who supported Trump. A Washington Post-Schar School Poll showed 74 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support the protests. Sixty-one percent disapprove of Trump’s response to the protests.
And in general election match-ups with Joe Biden, whose lead has increased in polls over the past month, Trump is losing white voters without a college degree and Biden is leading with senior citizens — two groups that Trump (and other Republicans) could previously get more support from with a “law and order” message.
The shifts among these voters are also due to Trump’s abysmal response to the coronavirus pandemic and the devastation wreaked on the economy. But his actions of the past two weeks may have helped solidify views.
In recent days on my SiriusXM show — where I take calls from at least a couple of Trump supporters each weekday — several hard-core Trump supporters have said he’s lost their vote, and other callers (non-Trump supporters) have said people they know have dumped Trump in recent days. This was notable since they’ve rarely changed in the past.
One regular caller, Mike from Pennsylvania — a caustic Trumper’s Trumper I’ve had many heated scraps with over the past few years — called this week saying Trump’s bible photo-op outside St. John’s Church after tear-gassing peaceful protesters was the breaking point for him. He’s a conservative Catholic. One can question why it took these events over so many others in the past — but as long as any of Trump’s supporters have a breaking point, even if it means they just stay home on Election Day, that’s a good thing.
Of course, none of this means these voters won’t get over it and go back to Trump, nor that the erosion is substantial. It’s five months until the election and just as things have changed dramatically in the past five months, they can do so again. We also have many other issues to contend with, from Russian interference to GOP attacks on voting. So it’s no time to let up, and every reason to keep fighting hard.