Why Can’t Republicans Distance Themselves From Donald Trump? Jamelle Bouie asks in his latest Slate piece. They’re Afraid, he says. Afraid of power, afraid for their careers, afraid of Donald. Which is all true. It’s a fascinating piece (as are all his articles), but I think he missed a key point about what makes them afraid. It’s Facebook. I think that something the media regularly misses (because they spend most of their time on social media with other pundits) but politicians do not miss (because they read social media from their constituents every day) is the power of Facebook to drive politics. Defying Trump can be disastrous for a Republican politician, because it could set off a tsunami–even a series of tsunamis–of incredibly angry, out of control, and crazily inaccurate Facebook posts that can severely damage a politician. When you have a tidal wave of furious Trump supporters calling Paul Ryan a RINO–he the lifelong Republican and they mostly recent converts–you can see just how dangerous a thing Facebook can be if you are on its wrong side.
The Tea Party was dangerous for Republicans, too, but it was an email phenomenon, and as such a Republican could confront it because Tea Partier’s frenzied emails would be seen by relatively few. Hundreds at most. But taking on Trump’s followers can expose you to literally hundreds of thousands of virally angry people, and there is as yet no way to safely contain that. This is anger several orders of magnitude beyond that of the Tea Party. An anger that actually crushed the Tea Party candidate, Donald Cruz. And while the media understands that the media itself has been instrumental in making Donald Trump the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, it doesn’t quite understand that it was not just the media, not all that free television they gave him, but that television in conjunction with Facebook. The impact of an analog appearance on television would expand exponentially in the digital universe that is Facebook. Trump would be everywhere on Facebook, pro and against. He seemed to dominate it. Even progressives were overwhelmed by Trump related posts. While all his opponents were spending big money in traditional campaigns, Trump sucked up all the Republican oxygen on Facebook. Each opponent smothered and died. Trump became not only the presumptive nominee, but became the Republican Party as far as Facebook was concerned.
Now, Facebook also went a long way to propelling Bernie Sanders too, but unlike the ethnically homogenous Republicans, Hillary had a firewall of Black and Hispanic voters who were not in the same Facebook universe as all those angry white progressives. Facebook dominance only works if everyone is Facebook friends with each other. But Facebook connections between blacks and whites are few, and between whites and Hispanics are few. The tsunami of pro-Bernie posts (and they were overwhelming) stopped at that racial/ethnic line. Bernie people never seemed to notice this and the Bernie Sanders phenomenon wound up a white people thing, as you could see from the faces at his rallies. As the campaign went on Bernie began picking up support across color lines from under thirty voters, but this was past the time of that first critical explosion of Berniemania. Hillary’s firewalls had held fast just about everywhere and Bernie’s campaign was on the mathematical ropes after the Southern primaries. The battle lines hardened and Bernie’s revolution never really expanded beyond his base of white progressives. It was that demographic topography of Democratic and Democratic leaning independent voters that limited Bernie Sanders’ success to mostly small states (he won eleven of the states with under thirty delegates, and two of the thirteen with over one hundred delegates), and failed at all to shake the confidence of the Democratic establishment. Only one Senator endorsed Bernie. A handful of congressmen. A few unions. He barely made a dent in the establishment at all. Voters over fifty had little use for him. Hispanics rejected him by two or even three to one. Blacks by four to one. Bernie’s Facebook world was a swirl with passionate intensity, a passion that had not been seen in American politics in generations, but it was mainly among white people under age forty who never noticed that so few outside that demographic were sharing their posts.
But among Republicans and Republican leaning independents on Facebook, there were no barriers to Trump at all. Compared to Democrats, Republicans are an endless flat plain of ideologically very similar people, differing in little but their accents, and you don’t hear accents on Facebook. The Donald’s presence just kept growing and growing, flowing like water in all directions, and it seems now to have no limits within Republican voters. There are no firewalls stopping him. There are certainly no ethnic divisions. Everybody can share everybody’s posts. And as a result, Republican politicians are much more at the mercy of outraged people on Facebook. They can’t hide, like Hillary, in all the places where white Millennials do not digitally congregate, because Trump supporters are anywhere and everywhere. And I think to a large degree this explains the fearful reticence of Republican politicians to cross Donald Trump. Even John McCain doesn’t want to cross Donald Trump. Trump could level him with one tweet, a tweet pasted onto Facebook and posted from one end of the party of Abraham Lincoln to the other. And McCain’s own Arizona Republican constituents love Donald Trump. He has to tread very carefully now. That RINO POW McCain and the Mexican judge both gotta go, someone might post, and the likes would pop up like dandelions after a spring rain.
But has Trump gone too far quintupling down on that judge? Could Trump be dumped? The media seems to think so. You can see the reporters and analysts and the scary bald GOP strategists and the lovely Nicole Wallace convincing each other of this on panel shows. You cannot be a racist presidential nominee howls an outraged Joe Scarborough. But I suspect it is far too late to dump Trump. I think that the press sees more change in Republicans than is real. I think they take the hopeful and logical and thoroughly unracist opinions of some valiant Republican politicians far too seriously. Because a poll today showed that a majority of Republicans do not think that Trump has been racist going after that judge. And it is that majority of Republicans, across that immense flat and seamless plain of Republicanism, and not the press corps and their favorite talking heads, who will be going nuts on Facebook every time faint of heart Republicans try to dump or even distance themselves from The Donald. Facebook dominates the GOP rank and file right now, and any politician who knows how to dominate both the media and Facebook will rule the Republican Party for the foreseeable future. Republican politicians are right to be afraid of crossing Donald Trump. He has too many Facebook friends.