As we watch Republican loyalists stay close to President Trump during the impeachment inquiry and the impending Senate trial, I have sought to understand how so many Republican leaders can ignore the facts of the Trump-led Ukrainian corruption case and not criticize the President’s behavior as unconstitutional and worthy of impeachment and removal from office.
Politically, I understand that many running in 2020 for reelection to Congress are worried about being “Trumped” in primaries and lose their seats to Trump-backed challengers. But, what explains the constancy of support in the Republican electorate for Trump (90% of Republicans support him as does 40-42% of the general electorate)?
I offer a few thoughts about the dynamics of political leadership and loyalty to party and political leader that may help us understand why so many Americans remain loyal to President Trump despite the mountain of evidence that the impeachment inquiry brought to light:
- Politics is about power and control, but it’s also about identity and self-definition. When we cease to be loyal to our preferred political party and office holder (i.e. to our tribe), we risk losing a sense of our identity. That loss can be threatening and undermining.
- In politics (as in life), I believe it is a virtue to be critical and honest about oneself, one’s leaders and political parties. Sadly, among Trump supporters, self-criticism seems utterly lacking.
- In a free society, each citizen must navigate between competing loyalties – to party affiliation and partisan office-holders on the one hand, and to ideology and democratic institutions on the other. Those Republicans still supporting Trump have chosen the former over the latter.
- As we do with our children, when they do something terrible, we can love and support them without justifying their bad behavior. It ought to be the same with our political leaders and parties.
In the coming weeks as the House of Representatives and the US Senate take up impeachment and the trial of the President, I have no expectation that Republicans will vote to impeach and convict. However, the ultimate remedy is the 2020 election. It is then that the people will have the opportunity to render a verdict.