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Commentary: Trump Explained (Continued)


I continue to think about the initial and enduring appeal of Donald Trump the man.  I’m also interested in Trump the movement, which is basically an outlet for some people’s authoritarian and/or racist streaks, but that’s for another time.

I was raised and remain a Christian.  I was not raised evangelical, so I can’t pretend to understand why more than 80 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.  I have close relatives who are evangelical and Trump supporters, and I formulate theories based more on what they do not say about Trump than what they do say.

Previously I’ve speculated that for some Trump is the quintessential sinner, so some evangelicals can both pray for him and say there but for the grace of God go I.  Previously I’ve speculated that for some their support is completely transactional --  as long as he opposes abortion, protects religious rights (the walk to the church from the White House holding the Bible was perfection), and puts conservatives on the Supreme Court, anything else he does or says is irrelevant. 

Here’s another theory: If you believe in the Old Testament God – wrathful, vengeful, judging – then Trump works for you.  You – and he – are always guilty of sin, always needing to repent.  The greater the sin and the sinner, the closer the alignment.  Evangelicals “get” Trump in ways non-evangelicals cannot.

Here’s one voter from Pennsylvania:

·      We all understand that he’s a little crude.  We know that he has no halo on his head.  We’re all like that a little bit.  So we kind of identified with that.  We understood.

Maybe I’m way overthinking this.  Maybe it’s just that millions of Americans like Trump the Bad Boy.  I read somewhere that Trump’s Commandment is: “That which you can get away with, is true.” 

Maybe it’s just The Show.  Trump reinvented showmanship.  A White House staffer is reported to have asked Trump if it’s all an act.  He replied “Totally.”  Of course his claim that it’s all an act – may be all an act.

Maybe he played to a profound emptiness in the American soul.  Jeff Roe, Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign manager, said:

·      What Trump understood is that Republican voters have become more polarized but less ideological.  A great number of them cared about some of the issues but they didn’t want esoteric debate on trade policy or deficits or things like that.  They just wanted a politician on their side.

Trump has left center stage but lurks in the wings.  We no longer choke on our breakfast coffee over his 2:30 a.m. tweets, but we sense him seething and plotting in his Florida lair.  As one of America’s former great landlords, he must love that he lives rent-free in our heads.  Well, he’ll need the rent he doesn’t pay us for his debts and legal fees.

The Pennsylvania voter said it best: “When it’s all over, where do we find another like him?”  Where indeed?

Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.