There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence that Donald Trump’s much-ballyhooed base, rather than wracked by dismay and disappointment by his first 300 days of undelivered promises, remains deeply committed to the cartoonish character they helped elect.
As National Review senior writer David French said in a New York Times op-ed last month written from Columbia, Tennessee, the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Moscow by the Republican nominee’s campaign—now showing some teeth—is being brushed off in Trump country.
But given the president’s slim record of accomplishments, it seems fair to ask: What does Trump’s constituency want? The answer seems to be: apparently, not much. Just consider the follow-through to all those rants at all those raucous campaign rallies.
“I Am Going to Instruct My Treasury Secretary to Label China a Currency Manipulator”: Instead of imposing tariffs on Chinese goods and confronting Beijing—a stance that pre-dated his candidacy—Trump just returned from a swing through Asia highlighted by his embarrassing kowtowing to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
- Illegal Immigrant “Rapists” and “Criminals”: As the right-wing deer tick Ann Coulter writes relentlessly, that “great, great wall” that candidate Trump promised to build and make Mexico pay for isn’t even as high as a gnat’s thigh.
- “We’re Going to Get Rid of Obamacare, Which Is a Disaster”: The Affordable Care Act has neither been repealed nor replaced and, in fact, enrollment in the Obamacare federal marketplace is up 46 percent in the first two weeks of November over the same period a year ago, according to CNBC.
- “Hedge Fund Guys… Getting Away with Murder”: Not only has Wall Street not been reigned in, but economic policy is being run by a former Goldman Sachs executive (top adviser Gary Cohn), a financial crisis vulture (Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin) and an investment bottom-fisher (Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross).
- “A Total and Complete Shutdown” of Muslims Coming Into America: On Monday, the heavily litigated travel ban that as Reuters reported “will apply to people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad who do not have connections to the United States” was allowed only partially and temporarily to go into effect by a U.S. Appeals Court.
It has been written ad nauseam that Trump is not a traditional politician. But with the Trump base unshakeable after almost a year of pledges unkept, it is becoming increasingly clear that Trump is not a politician at all and that Trumpism is not tied to any of the positions he took in his race against Hillary Clinton.
Defining the Trump base becomes almost impossible because Trumpism is not a political movement—it’s a cult of personality. When Trump said during the campaign that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn’t care, he recognized intuitively what Steve Bannon did not intellectually: that Trumpism is about one thing and one thing only—Donald Trump. Perhaps that recognition helps explain why Trump feels such kinship with other world leaders such as Vladimir Putin.
The Trump base’s seeming indifference to the president’s ability or willingness to back up his bombast with tangible results is bad news for Bannon and the so-called economic nationalism he believes handed the White House to the Republicans. If there is no penalty for failing to implement the aims of the grassroots revolution Bannon froths about, the revolution is a hollow one.
By extension, it bodes ill for the efforts of Bannon and Breitbart, the far-right website he commands, to dethrone Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and mount a hostile takeover of the GOP. Already there is a budding detente between Trump and McConnell, and should that strengthen and the president more fully throws his lot in with the GOP establishment, Bannon will have lost his point man.
Meanwhile, the irrelevance of Bannon and his America First agenda to Trump World grows by the day. Bannon has wound up on the wrong side of the Roy Moore scandal, with his nemesis McConnell getting kudos from even Rachel Maddow for taking the lead among his colleagues in pronouncing the randy judge as unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate.
On Sunday night, Bannon headlined the Zionist Organization of America gala and was scheduled to introduce Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife, Miriam, was among Trump’s most generous patrons. But at the last minute, Adelson begged off and later through a spokesman affirmed that he remains aligned with McConnell and the Republican establishment.
In addition, billionaire Robert Mercer, who like the Adelsons poured millions into the Trump campaign and who bankrolled Breitbart, has not turned on Bannon, but he has turned away from him. Mercer is stepping down as co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies in part because his political activities have brought unwanted attention to the secretive and wildly successful investment firm. And he is said to have sold his stake in Breitbart to his three daughters.
It’s gotten to the point where the only remaining Bannonite left in the West Wing, former fire-breathing Breitbart reporter Julia Hahn, is now—as The Daily Beast reported last week—struggling to sell the conservative media on a DACA deal that Trump is said to be negotiating with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
The fact that an anti-immigration, former Breitbart up-and-comer like Hahn would be peddling a Dreamers compromise says a great deal about what remains in the White House of the inflammatory agenda that thrilled crowds listening to Trump on the stump.
The truth is that while Bannon still has Trump’s back, the only back Trump has is his own. And those supporters whom Bannon used to warn Trump against alienating may be a base, but not a political base in the sense that they want to see a political program enacted. They’re a fan base.