A non-exhaustive typology of online Trump supporters
Back when Donald Trump was first nominated as the Republican Presidential candidate and then went on to win the Presidency, I realised I had an unusual group to examine. Having spent time following the travails of a right wing insurgent group within science fiction fandom, I had already researched a kind of ersatz focus group to see how the winds of political fortune might shift or remain steady over the following years. A set of individuals with marginally different ideologies, different levels of commitment to Donald Trump but also with a prolictivity to state their opinion of the day at great length (if not always with great clarity).
The problem with using the notable Sad and Rabid Puppies as political weather gauges is that there will be groups not represented within their numbers. For example, I don’t think there is any one who is a basic core Trump supporter — i.e. somebody who without hint of irony, just found Trump appealing from the get go. I assume such people exist based on polls and other studies but I don’t think they have a clear representation in the group I’m looking at.
At this stage, I just want to introduce a terminology rather than to cite examples. The key factors are antipathy to the left, antipathy to the Republican Party establishment, self-perception of being a libertarian and emotional commitment to Trump. I’ve ranked them from the most publicly supportive of Trump to the least.
One: Ironic Cheerleaders
This group are most likely to share Trump memes, refer to him as God-Emperor and ideologically are Alt-Right. They typically have extreme views on immigration and embrace misogyny and/or white nationalism. The support of Trump is loud but rarely with substance. They like it when Trump is vulgar and they like it when he upsets the conservative establishment. They really have very little interest in any policies other than hard line anti-immigration policies and withdrawal of US forces from extended conflicts in the Middle-East. They may actually be supportive of some left policies such as student loan forgiveness. They may be former libertarians but are no longer committed to libertarian policies and rhetoric or identify as libertarian. They are more inclined to tie their religion to their politics.
However, their support for Trump is based very much on Trump winning and doing wild shit. For them he is the Commander-in-Chief of internet trolling. Whatever their real emotional commitment to Trump may be, their public commitment has typically been framed with irony and an implication that they are joking. Ironically the irony is itself ironic and the nature of the discourse they have established with each other means they themselves are often unclear as to which ideas they are deeply committed to and which ones were just meant as a joke. If/when Trump falls out of power, the range of reaction from this group will be multifold, from a shrug of the shoulders that it had all been a giant prank to potentially violent denial. So far the only really upsetting thing Trump has done in their eyes is to suggest video-games may have a role in gun violence.
Two: Reluctant converts
This group were opposed to Trump during the Republican nomination process. They may have preferred Ted Cruz or Rand Paul as nominees. They are more likely to still identify as libertarian and would vehemently oppose a policy like student loan forgiveness. After Trump was nominated they shifted position to supporting him. Since then Trump has not revealed himself to be a secret Democrat mole and they feel a lot more comfortable in publicly supporting him. That commitment has become more sincere over time and it would take a lot to shake it. They have not been concerned by Trump’s tariff policy or trade war rhetoric. They actively applaud the tough line on immigration but still frame issues in terms of “legal v illegal”. They strongly believe that voter fraud is a major issue and that Democrats have much less support than opinion polls and elections suggest.
Their support for Trump would be very hard to shake. Major tax increases, student loan reform or gun control might shift their position. They are vehemently anti-left and anti-liberal. They feel besieged and that Trump is beleaguered by the same conspiratorial forces that are beleaguering them. If/when Trump falls out of power, they will be discombobulated. They will fall back to their original opinion of him (and they still preface their support with a token expression of his faults) but they will also maintain a strong stab-in-the-back mythology about Trump i.e. he was betrayed by the deep state etc. They aren’t QAnon cultists per-se (that’s more the first group) but they are fertile ground for believing conspiracy theories. If Trump was ousted they would be happy with Mike Pence.
Three: Sceptical advocates
Woe betide you if you ever suggest one of these is a Trump supporter! They will proudly state that they didn’t vote for him or if they did that it was only to save America from Hillary Clinton. This group is anti-anti-Trump rather than pro-Trump even though they are rarely if ever critical of him. Their main policy beliefs are gun rights and military funding. They are ambiguous about support for US military intervention overseas but supportive of an expanded military. They are anti-PC, anti-SJW. If they are religious it is not that central to their public beliefs. Despite nominally being not for Trump, they will make a show of attacking those attacking Trump and sometimes praise Trump for something but add the word “grudgingly” near the start.
They will be critical of Trump if he says something that sounds too anti-business or anti-gun. Their major fear when Trump was nominated was that he would help Hillary Clinton win. The same issue still exists: if it looks like Trump’s behaviour advantages the Democrats they will want him gone. They don’t really understand how Trump won in the first place and that currently makes them a little fearful of being too anti-Trump. If they didn’t vote for Trump they feel a bit embarrassed by that. Once Trump looks politically wounded, they’ll want him gone as quickly as possible. If Trump was ousted they also would be happy with Mike Pence.
Roughly speaking, there is an overlap in age and backgrounds but I believe that group one is on average younger than the others and group two is older.
How individuals will react if Trump is pushed out or impeached & prosecuted will vary. For some, both in the alt-right and more traditionally libertarian, they may be very loud about the situation but more quietly happy to be in opposition. Like some people on the left, it can be emotionally and cognitively simpler to be out of power, particularly as if you prefer the aesthetics of being the rebel-alliance rather than the empire. Others will be more deeply discombobulated and I don’t think it will be easy to guess who will be which.
If Trump blusters his way through impeachment, he will get support from all three groups at the next election but group three will cast their support as not-really-supporting-Trump-just-that-Democrats-are-worse. Functionally this anti-Democrat position rather than pro-Trump position won’t be substantially different in the details.