In a recent national survey Republicans were asked if they would join Donald Trump if he were to start his own political party. It was a rhetorically unnecessary question with an obvious answer.
How do we know?
If you recall, the late Sen. John McCain didn’t just call himself a Republican. He called himself a “Reagan Republican.” Others, in an earlier generation, called themselves “Goldwater Republicans.”
There are times when political institutions give rise to a particular leader and then become co-opted by that leader. It’s what we call a “cult of personality,” and it can happen to causes and to governments in ways that are both good and bad.
Some people become bigger than the cause
We’re not just talking about the worst example in human history – Adolf Hitler.
On that side of the historical ledger there also are names like Stalin and Mussolini and Saddam Hussein.
On the other side, however, there is Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.
Each in his own way became bigger than the cause or the institution that he came to lead.
It’s happened as well in American politics. George Washington. Abraham Lincoln. FDR. John F. Kennedy and, to a degree, his brother Bobby.
Ronald Reagan was like that.
And – no matter which side of the ledger you choose to place him – so, too, is Donald Trump.
What makes Trump’s followers different
Here is a man born to wealth, living in a luxury New York highrise filled with gilded French furniture, a man who demanded the staff at his hotel follow a seven-step process for serving him a Diet Coke, who somehow convinced tens of millions of Americans that he is a populist. A man of the people.
And he’s done it so well that, according to a Suffolk University/USA Today poll, nearly half the Republicans who voted for Trump in the last election said they would drop the GOP and join a new party formed by Trump.
These are not just “Trump Republicans.” They’re Trump cultists.
There is a difference between Trump’s people and those who followed MLK or Gandhi or even Ronald Reagan.
The followers of Dr. King and Gandhi were also believers in a very well-articulated philosophy involving human and civil rights.
Reagan had a fairly well-defined economic approach, a clearly outlined worldview and a sense of optimism shared by his followers.
There is no philosophy with Trump, only insults and outbursts and tough talk (from a guy who used four college deferments and a “bone spur” for which no one has seen a medical record to get out of military service during the Vietnam era.)
Trump doesn’t need to start his own party
Still, his appeal is not in doubt.
And those who think of themselves as Republicans – with no prefix attached – have no idea what to do about it.
It’s evident here in the conflict between Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, and the state GOP chair, Kelli Ward, a Trump cultist.
It’s evident in Congress, and in just about every elected government body on every level. Trump is feared by Republicans who want to be reelected.
They know the power he wields.
In that Suffolk University/USA Today survey, 54% of those polled said they were loyal to Trump and only 34% said they were loyal to the Republican Party.
What that tells us is that, in reality, Donald Trump does not need to start his own political party.
He already has one.
Reach Montini at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Survey shows why Donald Trump belongs in a headline with JFK, MLK and Ghandi