Donald Trump’s troubled campaign has seen an incredible exodus in support over the past week. After footage released last week showed him bragging about groping women, more than a dozen members of Congress withdrew their endorsements. Others, who’d previously stayed neutral in the race, called for the Republican presidential nominee to drop out.
But despite the wave of high-profile defections, the bulk of the GOP is sticking with Trump ― a man who, besides being accused of sexual assault, has publicly trashed the party, disparaged its members, broken with many of its most cherished political planks and shattered its attempts to win over minorities and women.
As of Thursday, TIME magazine found that 72 percent of Republican officeholders were still supporting Trump to some extent.
Even some of the Republicans who condemned Trump last week have since walked back their positions ― making the contorted argument that, even if they wish their party’s nominee would make an unprecedented late exit from the race, they still think he’s worthy of their public support.
“Like most Nebraskans, I am fully committed to defeating Hillary Clinton,” Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) told a state radio station just days after calling for Trump to step down in favor of his vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence. “I support the Republican ticket and I plan to vote for Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence on Nov. 8.”
For downballot Republican candidates, trying to set themselves at just the right amount of remove from their unpopular nominee is a tricky proposition. In 10 of the 14 Senate races that HuffPost Pollster has enough data to model, the GOP candidate is currently outpolling Trump by 4 or more points.
Being tied too closely to Trump offers few advantages, and lends itself well to Democratic attack ads. But taking a public stand against the brash businessman also carries risks, such as mobilizing his most outspoken backers.
“Support him and you could ostracize swing voters. Resist him and you signal to Republicans that they should stay home,” The Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller wrote Monday, describing the bind many candidates find themselves in. “Plus, there’s a whole segment of Trump supporters who are truly excited about the brash businessman. Stand up to him and you risk GOP voters skipping over your name.”
While Trump is lagging badly in the polls and even seeing his image slide among Republicans, the party’s voters are still mostly sticking with him. About 78 percent of Republicans say in an average of head-to-head polling that they support Trump over Clinton.
Just under four in 10 of Trump’s supporters are true believers, according to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal survey. Others are willing to swallow any doubts in the name of partisanship ― as HuffPost’s Natalie Jackson noted Monday, party identification remains by far the strongest predictor of how voters will act in election. And many simply still see him as a more palatable alternative to Clinton, who many of the GOP vehemently dislike.
In a HuffPost/YouGov survey taken last week, 58 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters agreed that “[t]he worst member of the Republican Party is still better than the best member of the Democratic Party.” Nearly three quarters said that Trump, whatever they thought of him, would make a better president than Clinton, with 55 percent saying that he would be “much better.”
That’s enough motivation for many of his remaining supporters to rationalize away some of his behavior. In a survey taken just after last Friday’s video leak, 60 percent of Republican voters said that Trump respected women ― unchanged from the days before the video but 12 points higher than in April, when he wasn’t yet the party’s standard-bearer.
Trump was never the GOP’s ideal candidate. He clinched the nomination with the eighth-lowest delegate percentage in Republican history, and with by far the fewest primary endorsements of any major-party nominee in at least 36 years.
But even when replacing Trump at the top of the ticket was still a theoretical, if far-fetched, possibility, it garnered less than majority support. And now, with less than a month until the election, most Republicans, both lawmakers and voters, seem to be willing to go down with his ship.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S.
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