Monmouth University published the results of a poll Tuesday showing that 61% of respondents who currently approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance said there was nothing Trump could do to make them change their minds.
The news came the same day Trump addressed reporters at Trump Tower in Manhattan and insisted there were “very fine people on both sides” of the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed.
Trump’s response to the violence drew ire from progressives, liberals and conservatives alike. After several statements where the president either rationalized the rally or placed white supremacists on moral par with the people protesting against them, it seemed some who had previously supported Trump had finally reached their threshold. But even as bipartisan condemnation poured in, the overwhelming evidence still suggested that nothing Trump could do would disgust his base enough to abandon him.
The real dilemma facing Trump’s opponents isn’t Trump himself. It’s the massive swath of Americans who still support him and refuse to hold him to any moral standard whatsoever.
Besides the backlash from a small number of Republicans in Congress, the most widely circulated rebuke to Trump from conservatives in recent days came in an op-ed at the New York Times. “I voted for Trump. And I sorely regret it,” read Julius Krein’s headline, preceding a piece that charted the writer’s evolution on the subject.
Many readers were indignant at Krein’s mea culpa and shamed him for his purported idiocy in backing a candidate whose danger was so apparent from the beginning.
“When you are so wrong about something so important that was so obvious, you do not get credit for finally getting it,” Deadspin deputy editor Barry Petchesky wrote on Twitter. “To those who regret the whole ‘I voted for Trump’ thing — f*ck you,” Twitter user Jonathan Jewel added. “We warned you’d be screwing yourselves over. You chose not to listen.” Melissa McEwan wrote a piece on Medium titled “I Didn’t Vote for Trump. So I Have Nothing to Regret.”
The aggregated response to Krein’s op-ed has been a spiteful, “We told you so,” but like other pieces about regretful Trump voters, it was also deemed newsworthy. TIME covered it, as did the conservative Weekly Standard. The backlash seemed to indulge a satisfaction among readers at seeing anti-Trump sentiment validated by those who initially backed him, while also presenting a prime opportunity to ridicule the repentant.
But the Monmouth poll should give pause to this validation, as should the evidence that has been simmering since Trump announced his candidacy. Krein and those like him are a double-digit minority, if the poll is to be believed. When the president said at an Iowa campaign rally in January 2016, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” it now seems that, for the most part, he was not exaggerating.
Trump is an obvious target for the anger roiled by the emboldened white supremacist movement gripping the United States. But as many have pointed out, he is more conduit than centerpiece. Republicans indulged Trump’s dog-whistle-laden birther campaign for years, which openly challenged the legitimacy of America’s first black president, Barack Obama. The party’s leaders have stoked racism among their rank-and-file, throwing their weight behind an anti-Black Lives Matter backlash movement by endorsing legislation that protects police officers under hate-crime statutes and makes it legal to run over protesters with cars.
Trump’s amorality is part of a larger cultural phenomenon. And the most challenging element of his success is how deep-seated support for him still is — and how uncritical. As the president flirts ever more aggressively with outright Nazi-apologia, the positive impact on race relations many projected onto his vision seems more laughable by the day. Unwavering support is still ingrained in more than 60% of his acolytes. Any pretense toward a government held accountable by the American citizenry has effectively been demolished when so many refuse to open their eyes and unplug their ears.
Whatever consolation one might find in the “I regret my Trump vote” genre of op-eds must be tempered by this reality. No matter what the president says or does, more than half of his supporters say they will never change their mind about him. As Democrats prepare for elections in 2018 and 2020 — running on a platform titled “A Better Deal,” geared largely toward winning back voters who supported Trump — they’d do well to remember these findings. For many Americans, Trump is the gospel. These people have dug their heels in. And they are not going to budge.