June 10, 2023

How Can All Those People Still Support Him after He Said That?

President Donald Trump delivers his speech during the final event of the Republican National Convention in Washington, August 27, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Many anti-Trump commentators will gasp at the latest claim of shocking, incendiary, offensive, and obnoxious comments from Donald Trump and ask, as they have so many times before, what on earth more could possibly be needed to get Trump voters to abandon their preferred candidate.

Fans of Trump can ignore, deny, avert their eyes or excuse comments from Trump the same way that fans of Joe Biden have managed to ignore, deny, avert their eyes or excuse comments from Biden such as, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking,” “[Obama is the] first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” “gonna put y’all back in chains”, “these Shylocks,” “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” “you ain’t black,” “unlike the African-American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community” and so on.

Those who find the Trump children to be walking conflicts of interest have found a way to make their peace with the financial dealings of Hunter Biden and James Biden. Those who see Trump as an authoritarian whose law and order rhetoric constitutes a wink-and-a-nod approval of police abuses have found a way to accept Biden’s past work on federal crime legislation, including abolishing parole, a sweeping expansion of civil-asset forfeiture, and expansion of the death penalty. Those who scoff about Trump’s bone spurs keeping him out of Vietnam are not bothered by Biden’s asthma keeping him out of the military but not off the football team.

Once voters decide they like a politician, it takes a lot to get them to change their minds. Most fans of a politician don’t care about a gaffe, or even a series of statements that are potentially offensive, insensitive, crude, or ill-considered. He’s their guy, and they can find ways to dismiss the criticism after any given comment as bad-faith whining or much ado about nothing.

Many partisans operate with the general attitude of, “Your guy’s controversial statements reveal a dark and corrupted soul; my guy’s controversial statements reveal a universal human frailty and an all-too-familiar tendency to mean well but have the words come out wrong.” People probably shouldn’t think this way; making political support more conditional upon good behavior and wiser words would probably help reinforce good behavior and possibly deter bad behavior. But this is a persistent dynamic in our politics, and no one should really be surprised that the grassroots of a party shows near-limitless patience for the flaws of party leaders.

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