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Why Republicans can’t quit Trump – no matter how angry he makes them

Instead of focusing on his intensifying impeachment battle with House Democrats, Trump ordered US troops out of northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey to launch a military strike against the Kurds in the region.

President Donald Trump arrives to speak to the faithful at a rally in Minneapolis.

President Donald Trump arrives to speak to the faithful at a rally in Minneapolis.Credit:AP

He knew that more hawkish Republicans in Congress, like Senator Lindsey Graham, would oppose the decision. He didn’t even give them the courtesy of consulting them beforehand.

Graham accused Trump of “shamefully” abandoning the Kurdish fighters who helped the US defeat IS. Even Senate leader Mitch McConnell spoke out, saying Trump’s decision “would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime”.

Famous televanglist Pat Robertson said Trump risked “losing the mandate of heaven” – a statement that got a lot of attention given evangelicals form a crucial part of Trump’s electoral coalition.

The outrage is significant. This is the most sustained criticism Trump has faced from conservatives since his election victory – outdoing the reaction to his press conference in Helsinki alongside Vladimir Putin or his tariffs on foreign imports.

Emotional Trump supporters.

Emotional Trump supporters.Credit:AP

But it would be a wild overstatement to say the party is breaking with Trump in a fundamental way.

Trump-era Republicans have become masters of compartmentalisation. They may be willing to say his Syria decision is a colossal mistake, but not to take the next step and say he is unfit for office.

Look at the behaviour of Senate Republicans like Joni Ernst from Iowa and Cory Gardner from Colorado. They both represent swing states and face difficult re-election fights next year.

Trump seems to be daring senators like them to break away from him – but they’re not.

Both Ernst and Gardner have refused to answer repeated questions about whether it was appropriate for Trump to ask the Ukrainian President to investigate a political rival. Instead, they focus on attacking Democrats for pursuing a politically-motivated investigation into the President.

The reason they’re holding steady is Republican voters. The base of the party is not outraged by Trump’s behaviour on his phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky or his decision to pull out of Syria.

The latest Gallup poll shows 87 per cent of Republicans are satisfied with Trump’s job performance. That number would have to drop significantly for a substantial number of Republicans in Congress to cut him loose.

Similarly, while Pat Robertson’s intervention generated headlines, there is no evangelical uprising calling for Trump to be replaced by Mike Pence – even though the VP is a committed Christian and conservative.

The marriage between Trump and the Republican Party has always been uneasy, and is particularly tense right now. Republicans on Capitol Hill are upset, and lashing out.

But in the ways that matter most, they’re standing by their man.

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