by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[E]ven ignoring his exaggerations, he is consistently hitting in the mid- to high 80s with Republicans in polling, which demands a question: Why are his actual numbers so high?
George W. Bush’s 99 percent might offer some insight. Americans generally rally around a president during a war or national crisis. But members of the president’s own party in particular can be counted on to fall in line. …
… Trump’s almost daily references to “treason” and enemies of the people may be driven by his own narcissism and persecution complex, but they resonate with a share of the electorate that believes the cultural war really is tantamount to a cold civil war.
While Trump has made it worse, this dynamic is not new. He is more the beneficiary (and exacerbator) of the polarized landscape than the creator of it. Party identification has been declining for Democrats and Republicans alike, but for those who cling to the label, the label has more meaning than it used to.
Until around 2000, it was normal for self-identified Republicans and Democrats to criticize presidents of their own parties, because people didn’t cling to partisan identity nearly as fiercely. The Bill Clinton impeachment battle was a foretaste of where we are. But even during the polarized presidency of George W. Bush, partisan dissent and defections were fairly common. Existential partisanship intensified under Barack Obama’s presidency, on both the right and left.
The wartime atmosphere Trump has established encourages partisans to overlook faults with their own side more than ever, because in the zero-sum logic of war, any dissent is seen as providing aid and comfort to enemies who would be worse if they gained power.