Trump supporters
Credit: Gage Skidmore

I generally don’t share the productions of my conspiratorial mind, but I can come up with wild theories just as well as any drunk at the end of the bar. I had an idea floating around the ole noggin’ during the early stages of the primaries that Donald Trump was working for the Russians and his mission was simply to derail the nomination of Jeb Bush. His secondary mission would be to go after any other candidates of an especially neoconservative bent, particularly Marco Rubio. He wasn’t supposed to win. That idea was ridiculous, even for Trump. But if he could hurt the more anti-Russia wing of the GOP, that would be considered a big success.

I think my theory is probably too pat, and I’ve never advanced it seriously, but it doesn’t seem as outlandish today as it did before we knew the extent of the campaign’s connections to Moscow. What we know for sure is that Trump launched his campaign as basically a traveling insult comic. His opponents were low-energy losers who had failed at everything they’d ever attempted. The more he belittled and humiliated other Republicans, the more the Republican primary voters loved him. This isn’t to discount the other well known factor that helped him win loyal adherents. Obviously, his political incorrectness on race and gender attracted a deplorable set of born a**holes. But we risk forgetting how important his abuse of his Republican opponents was to his success if we focus solely on his racism and misogyny. When he called Ben Carson a brain-damaged sociopath and accused Ted Cruz’s father of killing JFK, and gave out Lindsey Graham’s personal phone number, his fans’ heart swelled with adoration. Most famously, he had the gall to mock John McCain for getting captured, and it actually helped his cause. I suppose he got a two-fer when said there was something wrong with Carly Fiorina’s face.

I was reminded of all this while reading Greg Sargent’s piece in today’s Washington Post. Sargent explores the possible fallout from Trump’s recent moves on immigration and whether they have the potential to cause an erosion of support among Trump’s strongest supporters. And, I think, it’s quite possible that Trump won’t see much erosion at all for the simple reason that people underestimate how much of his appeal came out of the joy he created when he abused and humiliated the Republican establishment.

Republican voters haven’t been giving high approval numbers to their congressional leaders for quite some time now, and this certainly hasn’t improved with the failure to repeal Obamacare or move any other major legislation this year. Why would Trump voters show more loyalty to party orthodoxy or Paul Ryan than they showed to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio?

For every Republican like Ann Coulter who loved Trump for his abuse of Mexicans, there were probably several who loved him for the way he said brutally nasty stuff about his opponents and got away with it. They actually liked it when Trump made seemingly insane comments, whether they were about Barack Obama’s birthplace or they were about Muslims celebrating 9/11 in New Jersey or about how Antonin Scalia really died. Hillary Clinton wasn’t just an opponent who should be defeated; she was an irredeemable criminal who needed to be “locked up.” For all I know, the Access Hollywood tape actually helped him grow the loyalty of his base.

There was no person, party, gender, race or religion (not even the Pope!) that Trump couldn’t insult and grow stronger for the effort. The Republican Party and its leaders were certainly not exempt. In this context, perhaps his “wall” was more popular because he demanded the Mexicans pay for it than it was a believable way to stem immigration.

Perhaps the best way for Trump to maintain his support has little to do with him keeping his campaign promises and a lot to do with abusing people on Twitter.

I know Republican voters are supposed to care about policy, but I don’t think that many of them actually do. And then there are the folks who support Trump who never were Republicans. They certainly don’t care about Mitch McConnell’s feelings or whether or not the president adheres to GOP orthodoxy.

If I’m right, Trump has more to lose by being nice to Nancy Pelosi than he does from making a deal with her on the DREAM Act.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at