While President Trump regularly shatters political norms, and playing to his base rather than appealing to a broader electorate seems to fit his unorthodox style, he in fact is not that different from his predecessors in remaining loyal to his core supporters.
In yesterday’s N.Y. Times, columnist Jamelle Bouie encouraged Trump to “embrace the more moderate approach he promised as a candidate,” and it is commonly thought that Presidents do moderate their agendas once they take office. But as Prof. B. Dan Wood found in his study of presidential behavior, modern Presidents generally have maintained the partisan views that secured their nomination and have not made significant moves to attract the other party’s voters. A strategy of reinforcing core support by tailoring policies to the political base and persuading enough independents to move in the President’s direction is usually more successful than moderating policies and risking alienation of the base. This is especially the case when voters are highly polarized in their party affiliations as they are today in the United States.
We would be better off if Presidents took their lead from George Washington, who said that “I have sought the happiness of my fellow citizens” by overlooking “all personal, local, and partial considerations” and by contemplating “the United States as one great whole.” Unfortunately, electoral success takes priority over the common good.