Once elected almost every President of the modern era made an effort to expand their influence beyond those who voted for them. Whether it was because they believed that they had a duty to be the President of all people and/or they sought to expand their base as to facilitate the enactment of their agenda, they all made the effort, with one exception. At every opportunity Donald Trump has catered only to his base of loyal supporters even when by doing so he alienated the majority of American voters, including an increasingly number of Republicans.
Early on some political analysts speculated that Trump’s strategy was to maintain a strong hold on his most ardent supporters which form the unsophisticated nucleus of the Republican Party. The thinking was that other more orthodox Republicans and conservative independents would follow along out of loyally to the party and/or conservative ideology if not the man. If that was indeed the plan, it is certainly starting to look like it wasn’t a very good one.
It is well known that Trump’s job approval rating is now the lowest at this point of his presidency since polling for that statistic began with Truman. Since Trump entered office, among independents his job approval rating has dropped 12 points to 30%. Among Republicans it has dropped 7 points to 82%, which is still a high number, but one has to wonder how solid it is. A just released poll of likely voters of the states which were key to Trump’s victory – Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin – showed that the percentage of people who have a “strongly favorable” opinion Trump’s job performance has dropped from 35.3% to 26.9% from April to August while the drop among Republicans was even greater – 54.1% to 44.9%. At the same time those with a “strongly unfavorable” opinion increased 35.3% to 43.6% and the number of Republicans with an “unfavorable” opinion of Trump jumped from 20.5% to 27.9%.
Yet, in every way possible, Trump continues to play only to his most fervent supporters even while his poll numbers continue to sink. Surely he and his closest advisors understand what is happening and yet he refuses to change tactics. Why? I am coming to the conclusion that the answer to that question begins with that fact that early on Trump’s objective was not to become President of the United States.
I have come to the realization that Trump did not enter the Republican primary with the objective of winning the nomination, much less the general election. It is well known the most important thing in Trump’s life is “winning” so why would he enter the Republican primaries when virtually no one, including himself, believed he could win? Well, that depends on how Trump defined winning at the time. I believe he initially threw his hat into the ring not to win the nomination, but with the only objective which has remained a constant throughout his life, to promote himself and his brand.
Over the previous five years Trump formed a close relationship with Steve Bannon, head of Breitbart News, a virulently anti-establishment media outlet catering to alt right and Tea Party views. Trump and Bannon shared similar world views. Both were opponents of costly wars and foreign trade agreements. Trump also adopted, at least for public consumption, Bannon’s persona as a defender of the working class Americans which have been largely undervalued by both political parties. It would be natural for two people like Bannon and Trump to entertain the proposition of combining Bannon’s media expertise and Trump’s fame and talent for self promotion to create a new business which would produce media products for that vast under served segment of the population.
I believe that the original objective of Trump and Bannon was to produce a new TV and media network to compete pushing a populist bent with media outlets such as Fox News for conservative audiences.. I think they realized that establishment Republicans had long abused their base, persuading them to vote against their economic best interests by catering to their socially conservative beliefs. I also think that the plan was to amplify Trump’s fame as a businessman/TV star with exposure as a Presidential candidate to push the populist message which would then become the overriding theme of the new media network.
If I’m right ,Trump didn’t enter the campaign with the intention of winning the Republican nomination. What happened was that Trump’s message was even more popular than either he or Bannon dreamed possible. Then Trump’s obsessive desire to win at every thing he tries was refocused in a new direction once he saw that the Republican nomination was within his reach. Then when Trump’s campaign against Hillary Clinton was floundering, Bannon decided that he could better promote his disruptive anti establishments views with Trump in the White House. He stepped into the campaign and encouraged Trump concentrate on the politically powerful illegal immigration issue and provided him with all of the anti-Hillary propaganda at his disposal. Bannon kept Trump focused on the opposition.
Trump thought that he could run the government the way he ran his business; he thought it would be easy. He thought he could just issue orders and it would be done. He thought that if anyone stood in his way, he could just bully them, or run over them the way he did so many times before in private life. However, the Trump is the kind of commander in chief that the founding fathers had in mind when they wisely installed checks and balances into our system of government and made Congress and Judiciary coequals of the Executive branch. Trump soon found that being President isn’t so simple after all and he is a frustrated and unhappy person saddled with a responsibility he not only no longer wants, but for which he is ill equipped temperament wise to handle. However, his self image would never allow him to just quit.
The one thing that Trump, the narcissist, likes about being the primary resident in the White House is the adulation of the people who still think he is great. That’s why he still sets up campaign style rallies long after the election so he can bask again in the roar of approval from his loyal supporters. It is also why he doesn’t dare do anything that might turn those people against him. Making pronouncements and taking actions which would tend to broaden his support among the rest of the electorate also risks alienating his most steadfast supporters. He won’t take that risk. He will keep Bannon around to guide him in that endeavor as long as Bannon isn’t seen as his puppet master.
So Trump continues to play to his base even as his administration sinks further into disaster and he will continue to so as long as they provide him with the adoration he craves. Besides, there is still the prospect of starting a national media network and remaining the champion of the alt right after he is impeached or finishes out his term.