Opinion: Why Republicans will stick with Trump in 2020 — even if they don’t love his behavior

Republican voters are generally happy with the direction President Trump has taken the country.
Republican voters are generally happy with the direction President Trump has taken the country.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

Recently, a close friend and fellow Republican told me he was “personally shocked at what the evangelicals have been willing to stomach” from Donald Trump. I’m not shocked at all.

My friend’s sentiment — a variation on the empty “if Obama had done this, Republicans would’ve impeached him” — has become a staple of Democrats and Never Trumpers. “Are you ready to turn on him yet?” Republicans are asked over and over.

No one ever says yes. The Republicans who make a living hating Trump today hated him before he was elected. The rest of the party remains solidly behind him. The reason for that, as we enter this election year, is less granular than feeling happy or sad about a specific presidential behavior. Rather, it has to do with the general direction of the nation: Trump and whoever the Democrats nominate represent such fundamentally different directions for our country that it is almost unthinkable for a Republican voter to be seriously torn.

Imagine standing at a train station in Louisville, Ky., staring at the schedule board. You want to get to Los Angeles, and you have a choice of two trains — one headed to San Diego and one headed to Washington, D.C. Neither gets you exactly where you’re heading, but there’s really only one choice as the alternative to San Diego is to go precisely the wrong way.


Even if the San Diego train sometimes hits bumpy tracks, and the conductor comes on the PA and says crude and dumb stuff, and there are people on the train you really wish would get off: It is still taking you basically where you want to go.

To the average Republican voter, like the passenger on that train, the destination is what matters.

I tried to explain this to my friend. I told him that, for Christian conservatives, the choices are Trump versus people who prefer full-term abortions and believe that that our country should functionally have no borders. To vote against Trump is to vote for a party that fundamentally believes Republicans are deplorable — and racist.

The decision isn’t hard.

“But the porn stars! The crudeness! The immorality!” my friend says.

To a Christian conservative voter, the individual behavior of an imperfect human pales against the importance of protecting human life. If the imperfect president appoints pro-life judges and takes your values into account when making policy, you don’t worry so much about one sinner’s struggles with morality. You just pray for him, while also giving thanks for all he does to advance your cause.

Choosing any of the Democrats running for president isn’t simply boarding a train headed in a slightly different direction, or one going the same way with a nicer conductor. It means completely turning around. For goodness’ sakes, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden have both proposed plans that would spend taxpayer dollars on gender assignment surgery!

And that’s what has been so illuminating about this Democratic primary race: Because of their extreme tilt to the left, none of these candidates have a prayer of peeling off a statistically significant number of Republican voters. No matter what the Never Trumpers in your Twitter feed tell you, Trump — win or lose — will have the support of more than 90% of his party.

Some people used to argue that the two parties are basically the same. It wasn’t true then, and it’s especially not true now. Most of Trump’s governance has been what you’d expect from any Republican president (conservative judges, lower taxes, deregulation, an embrace of pro-life policies), and the wild extremism of his would-be opponents is causing some center-right voters who were lukewarm on Trump three years ago to feel closer to him than ever before.

The exception to that is the cohort of suburban women who clearly abandoned the Republicans in the 2018 midterm and strongly disapprove of Trump now. But will losing them be enough to derail the Trump train?

I consulted the impeachment polling aggregator on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website on Dec. 29, and it said that 48% of Americans prefer impeachment and removal versus 46% who did not. As has been true for three years, the polls say men basically want Trump and women basically don’t.

Impeachment has become a political Rorschach test, and Trump might easily win reelection with a two-point deficit in the popular vote. The question isn’t how Republicans can still vote for Trump, but how the Democrats became so radicalized as to present no viable alternative to huge swaths of nonurban America.

Scott Jennings is a former advisor to President George W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a CNN contributor. He is a contributing writer to Opinion. Twitter: @ScottJenningsKY.