It’s Crazy to Think Trump Wants to Be a Felon

The myth of Donald Trump is that he is immune to scandal — that there’s nothing he could say or do that would undermine his political prospects. In this rendering of the Trump dynamic, his shamelessness helps him glide past controversy, and the unshakable devotion of his base keeps him afloat through the worst of storms.

The truth of Donald Trump is very far from the myth. Yes, he is shameless. Yes, he is surrounded by a cult of personality. But neither has made him invulnerable to the blows of political combat.

It would exhaust your time and my patience to do a full inventory of every scandal and offense that has marked Trump’s time in the national spotlight. But we don’t need to. The pattern is clear enough.

Trump did not shrug off the debacle of the “Access Hollywood” tape; his campaign came as close as it ever would to total collapse. He owes his survival to the ironclad partisanship of his Republican allies; without it, he would have sunk under the many waves of anger and condemnation. In the wake of his apologetics for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in the summer of 2017, his already low standing crashed even further as voters turned away in disgust. And Trump was so shaken by the roar of outrage in opposition to family separation at the Southern border that he rescinded the policy rather than risk the chance of a fatal blow to his presidency. Even minor scandals, like his derisive reference to “shithole countries,” forced both Trump and his White House into a defensive crouch.

The obvious rejoinder here is that what Trump lost in support from the general public he gained in an even tighter bond with his political base, which relished its shared sense of persecution by a Sanhedrin of liberal elites and deep-state operatives. And because the loudest segments of his base tend to occupy social positions tied to notions of the heartland as well as images of popular Americana (farmers, hard hats, pickup trucks), there is a tendency to treat this base as more significant than it is — as though it stood as the only authentic representative of the American people, bestowing Trump with the essence of the nation itself.

Here in reality, Trump’s base is just that — a base. It is a durable foundation, but like any political base it has given neither Trump nor the larger Republican Party the strength necessary to win competitive elections on its own. Trump did not win the 2016 presidential election solely on the votes of his base; he won it after he consolidated wavering Republicans and persuaded just enough moderate and independent voters in the right places — essentially the bare minimum — to back him over Hillary Clinton.

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