President Obama has posed a question and a challenge to the numerous Republican leaders who have repeatedly found themselves disavowing one or another outrageous statement by Donald Trump but who still continue to endorse him: What does it take before you finally say “enough, I can no longer support this man?”

Actually, Republicans’ reluctance to dis-endorse isn’t hard to understand. Any one of three possible motivations is at work:

  • Ideologically based pragmatism—Paul Ryan has stated it repeatedly and credibly: Despite some departures from orthodoxy, and despite his personal…uh…unpleasantness, Trump will enact a policy agenda that is far closer to GOP objectives than what we will get from Hillary. The downside is that we may get a dangerous, malicious jerk as POTUS. But after all, you can’t have everything.
  • Self-interested pragmatism—Whether Trump wins or loses, it could well be political suicide for a prominent Republican to disavow the great white hope so enthusiastically embraced by the Republican base. If Trump wins, you’re cooked. If he loses, you’re one of the traitors who stabbed him in the back and condemned the country to four more years of tyranny. The downside: same as above, but, hell, the country will survive, your career may not.
  • Cynicism—Trump is going to lose anyway, so why bother to oppose him? You can get credit for party loyalty despite having expressed reservations about the nominee. The downside: the risk, however slight, that we may get a dangerous, malicious jerk as POTUS.


This is one case in which the least deplorable motivation is the most cynical.



  1. Jeffrey Herrmann August 5, 2016 at 10:07 am

    The three reasons you outline are based on the assumption that the decision to back Trump is made at the rational, conscious level of thinking.
    Another possibility is that they are merely three potential rationalizations for a decision actually made at the unconscious, nonrational level based on, e.g., tribalism, authoritarian leanings, etc.
    As Thomas Edsall recently reported,
    “Trump’s entire campaign is premised on the primal assault of an in-group against an out-group.”
    “A majority of Americans favor either highly authoritarian (31 percent) or authoritarian (26 percent) traits.”
    Therein lies Trump’s appeal to people who, if reason governed their choices, would spurn him.
    The political heart has its reasons that reason can not know.

    • tonygreco August 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      Non-rational and unconscious impulses undoubtedly are a major factor in voting behavior, but in my post I was thinking of fairly high-level Republican party and elected officials who are generally more sophisticated than the average voter, and who may actually have to deal personally with the consequences of their public position. Take John McCain, who would probably love to tell Trump to go to hell. But he knows that such an emotional outburst would alienate Trump fans and thus endanger his re-election chances both in the primary and the general elections. His non-disendorsement stance is coldly rational.

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