Trump says there's 'great unity in the Republican Party'
President Trump insisted on Oct. 25 that the Republicans are "really unified," amid criticism from Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and called his meeting with Senate Republicans "a lovefest." (AP)
With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: Republican leaders are trying to downplay the significance of Jeff Flake’s retirement speech by insisting that the party is unified and that critiques of President Trump are entirely about his personality — not his policies.
Asked about Flake’s criticisms as he boarded Marine One for a trip to Texas yesterday afternoon, Trump responded that his meeting with Senate Republicans was “a lovefest.”
“We have, actually, great unity in the Republican Party,” the president said. “If you look at the Democrats with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, that's a mess. … We're really unified on what we want to do.”
Asked for reaction to what both Flake and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said about Trump, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Fox News: “This is more of, like, a People Magazine saga.” Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) told CNN, “These things are all personality-driven, and it's unfortunate that this leaked out over into the public.” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told MSNBC, “If we were all to chase every squirrel that comes running along in the form of a personal dispute or a mischaracterization of someone's integrity or intent, we would be very busy doing that and not focusing on the government.”
But that’s not the case, and they all know it. In fact, there are profound ideological differences within the Republican coalition that have become much more pronounced in the Trump era. Flake’s decision to not seek another term was as much about his refusal to abandon his core principles as his concern over Trump’s fitness for office.
“It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party — the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things,” Flake said in his Tuesday speech on the Senate floor.
On the same day Flake bowed out, the Pew Research Center released a fascinating 152-page report on the nation’s political typology. Based on in-depth interviews with more than 5,000 American adults, the nonpartisan group divided everyone across the political spectrum into eight groups, along with a ninth group of politically disengaged “Bystanders.” (That is a giant sample, and the methodology is airtight.)
Pew’s typology studies, which it has conducted since the 1980s, are always a treat to read because they include a delicious trove of data to feast on. But they are expensive to conduct, so the last one came out in 2014. That’s only three years, but it feels like a generation ago: before Donald.
The report highlights fissures under the Republican big tent on a host of issues.In many cases, the dividing lines are not necessarily new. Butseveral of the areas which Republicans are most torn about have moved to the front burner because of Trump’s disruptive campaign and presidency, from trade to immigration and America’s role in the world.
-- Pew identifies four distinct GOP factions:
Core Conservatives, about 15 percent of all registered voters, are what we think of as traditional Republicans. They overwhelmingly support smaller government, lower corporate tax rates and believe the economic system is fundamentally fair. Seven in 10 express a positive view of U.S. involvement in the global economy “because it provides the U.S. with new markets and opportunities for growth.”
You might call this group the Jeff Flake Republicans. Flake grew up on a ranch that depended on the labor of undocumented immigrants, who he came to deeply respect as human beings. He was a Mormon missionary in South Africa, which made him worldly. As an ideological heir to Barry Goldwater and a devotee of Milton Friedman, he’s a devoted free trader who has unabashedly embraced the “globalist” label to describe himself.
Country First Conservatives, a much smaller segment of the GOP base (7 percent of all registered voters), are older and less educated. They feel the country is broken, blame immigrants for that and largely think the U.S. should withdraw from the world. Nearly two-thirds agree with the statement that, “If America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.”
Market Skeptic Republicans (12 percent of registered voters), leery of big business and free trade, believe the system is rigged against them. Just one-third of this group believes banks and other financial institutions have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, and 94 percent say the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests. Most of them want to raise corporate taxes, and only half believe GOP leaders care about the middle class. They generally view immigrants negatively, they’re not too focused on foreign affairs and they’re less socially conservative than the first two groups.
New Era Enterprisers, the fourth group, are the opposite. They account for about 11 percent of registered voters: They’re younger, more diverse and more bullish about America’s future. They support business and believe welcoming immigrants makes the country stronger.
-- Core Conservatives are the biggest faction in the party, but they have historically punched above their weight because people in this category are more engaged with politics, more likely to vote and more likely to keep up with current events. (They also make up the lion’s share of the donor class, so politicians have another incentive to cater to their interests.)
This helps to explain why 9 in 10 Core Conservatives say the Republican Party represents their values very or somewhat well, compared to only 3 in 4 Country First Conservatives and 6 in 10 Market Skeptic Republicans.
-- Trump’s core supporters tend to regard economic policy as a zero-sum game.Many believe that others must lose for them to win. Most Americans, however, believe that it’s possible to have economic policies that benefit everyone in the country. Six in 10 Market Skeptic Republicans say that pretty much any economic policy will end up benefiting some at the expense of others, much higher than Core Conservatives.
Sen. Jeff Flake speaks to reporters after announcing he will not seek re-election. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
-- Looking through the crosstabs, here were seven other questions that divided the subgroups in striking ways:
Taxes: Two-thirds of Core Conservatives say there should be lower taxes both on large businesses and corporations. On the other side, only 24 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans support lowering tax rates on high-earning households and a 55 percent majority says taxes on large businesses and corporations should be raised.
Health care: 88 percent of Core Conservatives say it is not the government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health-care coverage, compared to 72 percent of Country First Conservatives and 57 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans. But the New Era Enterprisers are split: 47 percent say it is the government’s responsibility to ensure Americans have health care, while 50 percent say it is not.
Immigration: Three-quarters of Country First Conservatives say immigrants are a burden on the country, and two-thirds of that group say that the U.S. risks losing its identity as a nation if it is too open to people from around the world. But 70 percent of New Era Enterprisers view immigrants as a strength and two-thirds of them say America’s openness is “essential to who we are as a nation.”
Role of government: Only 12 percent of Core Conservatives say that the GOP is too willing to cut government programs even when they have proven effective, compared to 36 percent of Country First Conservatives, 46 percent of New Era Enterprisers and 49 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans.
America’s role in the world: Overall, 47 percent of Americans agree that “it’s best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs,” but an identical percentage says “we should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home.” Support for global engagement has spiked among Democrats since 2014. While half of Core Conservatives say the U.S. should be active globally, 66 percent of Country First Conservatives and 72 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans say the U.S. should concentrate on problems at home and pay less attention to problems overseas.
Climate change: 7 in 10 Core Conservatives say there is no solid evidence of global warming. Only half of Country First Conservatives say that. On the other hand, two-thirds of both Market Skeptic Republicans and New Era Enterprisers say there is solid evidence of global warming.
Same-sex marriage: Nationally, 62 percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 32 percent still oppose same-sex marriage. Three-quarters of Country First Conservatives oppose same-sex marriage. But Core Conservatives are now closer to evenly divided — 43 percent support and 49 percent oppose. On the other side, 57 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans and 54 percent of New Era Enterprisers want to let gays and lesbians to marry legally.
-- Bigger picture: The center is not holding. There is much less overlap in the political values of Republicans and Democrats than in the past. In 2004, 49 percent of Americans took a roughly equal number of conservative and liberal positions on a scale based on 10 questions. That was the same percentage as in 1994. Then, three years ago, 38 percent had a mix of liberal and conservative views. Now it’s dropped to 32 percent.
-- A good insight: Trump keeps talking about Hillary Clinton because it’s the best way to hold his coalition together. Only about 4 in 10 Core Conservatives and Country First Conservatives say they agree with Trump on “all or nearly all issues,” compared to almost 6 in 10 Market Skeptic Republicans. The New Era Enterprisers are split almost evenly: 47 percent say they agree with Trump on many or all issues, while 53 percent say that they agree with the president on few or almost no issues.
In every GOP faction, though, voters strongly dislike Clinton at about twice the rate that they strongly like Trump. (Similarly, Democrats are held together right now by their near universal disdain for Trump.)
“To appropriate a phrase from the late Rick James, reflexive partisanship is a helluva drug,” Aaron Blake observes on The Fix. “And today's Republican Party is much more united on what it is against — namely, the Democrats and the mainstream media — than on what it's for. … Trump may not be great on their policies, and they may even think he's kind of a jerk, but he's with them on the most important thing: being not-the-other-side. It's arguably his most pronounced quality. And in an increasingly polarized country, it's what really matters.”