The Id Theory of Politics
What if Republican voters just . . . decide to love DeSantis?
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1. The Heart Wants What It Wants
I’ve made both bull and bear cases for Ron DeSantis’s prospects, most recently in this piece where I argued that Trump has created a trap for him regarding January 6th. The short version: There is an inherent logic to Trump’s argument that DeSantis has no answer for: I was the best president ever. I was cheated in 2020. January 6th was a peaceful protest. I’m going to right the wrongs and settle all accounts. Vote Trump.
That’s logical. It makes sense as an argument. But what if logic has nothing to do with the Republican primary?
Last week Amanda Carpenter made the point to me (on TNL) that Republican voters have simply decided that they like DeSantis. Period. And once voters decide they like a candidate, then all of the logic flows from there. In politics, Amanda argued, voters make their decisions first and then rationalize backwards.
And that theory was on full display in The Focus Group podcast this weekend (listen to the show here) where Sarah talked with groups of evangelical Christians who voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020.
If you go by the numbers, then for these voters, Mike Pence should be The Guy. But to a man, they were all anti-Pence. Why? Their rationalizations were ridiculous:
“I don’t like how Trump was like in your face and everything. But then Pence is almost too far in the other direction. You don’t know anything about him.”
“I’m having a hard time backing Pence right now and I can’t tell you why other than just maybe my gut.”
“He’s almost become too entrenched in the establishment.”
“I almost feel like he’s the Donald Trump equivalent of Kamala Harris.” [JVL: WTF does that even mean?]
At the risk of playing armchair psychologist, there are only two possible explanations for such statements:
These people are dumb as a bag of hammers; or
After January 6th they decided that they no longer liked Pence. So they have now invented reasons to be against him.
Option (2) seems more likely to me. Your mileage may vary.
The same dynamic was on display in the The Focus Group with evangelicals who were rationalizing why they loved Trump. One woman told Sarah that she felt comfortable with Trump because Trump spends so much time with “his minister.”
“What I saw in [Trump’s] four years was he did have a very strong pastor that was there with him a lot. And you know that pastor was here from Dallas and I would hear him on the radio a lot talking about not necessarily their personal meetings but just talking about how he’s . . . getting it.”
Please raise your hand if you think Trump has been to services more than a dozen times in the last 20 years. Or has read the Bible. Remember: Trump is a self-proclaimed Christian who says he’s never had to ask for God’s forgiveness—tell me you have no understanding of Christianity without saying, “I have no idea what Christianity is.”
So did this evangelical voter genuinely believe that Donald Trump was praying with his “pastor” every day and working through his Bible study and walking with Christ?
Or did she decide that she just liked Trump and so built a rationalization from there?
Again: Your mileage may vary. But I know what I’d guess.
So maybe politics really is that simple.
Policy matrices, logical arguments, and advanced positioning are just backfill. What really matters is the id, which decides to either like or dislike apart from rationality.
The id is the instinctual, illogical part of the self. The part of the brain that just wants. But the source of the id’s want is very specific: The id is a pleasure-seeking impulse. It’s not motivated by desires for protection or actualization. It’s all about self-gratification.
The id wants what it wants because it feels good.
And I think you can construct a theory of Republican politics around the id that fits observable reality pretty well.
It’s not like Republican voters have been overburdened by logical consistency over the last decade. By turns they have:
Insisted that character and virtue are the paramount issues in politics; then voted for the thrice-married liar who cheated on his postpartum wife with a porn star and was on the cover of Playboy.
Proclaimed the importance of Christian teaching in public policy; then celebrated using refugees as political pawns.
Claimed that January 6th was a false-flag operation conducted by Antifa activists; insisted the protests were entirely peaceful; and also believed that the people engaging in violence were brave patriots trying to stop a constitutional usurpation of the presidency.
Demanded unquestioning support of law enforcement when minorities are beaten or killed by police; then argued for defunding the FBI when it investigated Trump and also called the Capitol Police crisis actors after January 6th.
Argued that America shouldn’t be giving aid to Ukraine because we should be “helping people at home”—even though they opposed the Child Tax Credit to help working families.
You can come up with your own list. My point isn’t to make an exhaustive chronicle, but to observe that these seemingly contradictory positions are more the rule than the exception in Republican politics.
And also to observe that if you try to square these circles with logic, then you’re going to tie yourself in knots coming up with some grand unified policy worldview to explain it all.
But the Id Theory of politics explains it quite nicely. In each case, there is a view that challenges Republican voters and a view that gives them pleasure. Republican voters, as a group, seem to choose pleasure just about every time.
Maybe the biggest argument in favor of the Id Theory is the lack of counterexamples. Can you think of a case in Republican politics when the party has gone against something it wanted because of evidence or logic?
Immigration is the obvious historical example: George W. Bush tried to take Republicans to a place they didn’t want by making both moral and evidence-based economic arguments in favor of reform. Republican voters didn’t budge.
Ukraine is a live example: Supporting Ukraine is in line with the party’s traditional view of foreign policy. But Republican voters want to oppose it because of negative polarity. Initially, the logic overwhelmed the Republican id here; but over time the id has begun to win out.
We’ll see where this goes.
And the Ukraine example brings us back to DeSantis—because if you look at his remarks on the subject, he simultaneously posits that:
Russia wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine if Trump were president.
Biden has given Ukraine a “blank check.”
The Biden administration has no objective in Ukraine.
He, Ron DeSantis, will not state what the U.S. objective should be.
Does this mishmash make sense? No.
Will Republican voters buy it, simply because they like DeSantis? Very possibly.
At the end of the day, that’s the biggest danger for Trump. Not that he’s outmaneuvered on COVID, or that DeSantis corners the donor crowd. The big danger is that Republican voters have already decided to like DeSantis. At which point there may not be anything Trump can do about it.
2. Kyle Rittenhouse
I’m not quite sure what to make of the story of Kyle Rittenhouse. He’s a kid who was clearly failed by every adult in his life: Can you imagine being the parent who lets your child have an assault weapon and encourages him to drive to another state to get involved in a riot? At the age of 17?
I do not like to judge other parents, but even if you’re the biggest Second Amendment supporter in the world, this is catastrophically imprudent.
Then Rittenhouse kills two people. And has to face the criminal justice system. He’s acquitted—he gets a second chance at having a normal life. But this time the MAGA grifters get their hooks into him. They turn Rittenhouse into a cause celebré so they can make money off of him.
Rittenhouse then thinks he can make his ill-gotten fame into a career, only to find that the carnival has moved on.