The last few weeks has seen a number of Republican elites either subtly (or explicitly) criticizing President Trump, his positions, and his leadership. While this makes for attractive news headlines, the question is: How much does this elite bucking of Donald Trump matter?
That’s not me being snarky or dismissive; I am genuinely intrigued from a political psychology perspective. Research demonstrates that how people think about politics is going to be, in part, colored by the party that they identify with and the strength of that attachment. As a general rule, we’re more willing to give credence by words spoken by members of the metaphorical home-team.
But now the information against Trump is coming from members of the GOP, from the same political team. Will this be enough to convince the Pro-Trump bloc of ordinary Republicans?
My first instinct is no. So far, President Trump has maintained a core contingent of followers regardless of whatever news comes out. They ignored the warnings of party elites in the primaries and election; in many respects, this is much of the same.
But then there’s President Bush.
Unlike many of the other party critics who are largely unknown outside of their district or who have been framed as a RINO, George W. Bush is a name that is still well known and strongly linked to the Republican brand. In a recent speech, he quietly excoriated the undercurrents of nativism and White Supremacy that are trying to hitch on to conservative ideals and subtly implicated President Trump as being complicit in its spread. Republicans spent the better part of a decade defending President Bush from Democratic criticisms (some less deserved than others) and are subsequently hesitant to dismiss him out of hand. While I doubt that a single speech would be enough to sway President Trump’s loyalists, someone of his caliber and partisan capital may be what’s required to induce doubt and/or ambivalence.
We can be fairly confident that most of the criticisms, those made by less-known politicians, will fall on deaf ears. But only time will tell how things will play out when a co-partisan heavy-weight steps into the arena.