Hassell: Ambition Explains GOP Unification Behind Trump

May 25, 2016

Last Saturday at the Iowa Republican Convention, Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann enthused that support was building for Trump.

“Every time I speak, I’m seeing more and more and more unity. Which means, bottom line is, we’re going to really, for all practical purposes, be able to start the Hillary vs. Trump contest long before we actually go into Cleveland.”

Indeed, multiple national party leaders who previously derided Trump, like Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, have now come out in support of him. Hans Hassell, assistant professor of politics science at Cornell College, says it’s important to look closely at the specific people endorsing him.

“If you look at the people that have come out and endorsed him since he clinched the nomination, it’s a certain subset of individuals. It’s not governors who are jumping on the bandwagon, it’s not clergy. What it is, is it’s sitting members of Congress who are up for re-election this year, and major donors.”

And, Hassell argues, their reasoning has less to do with a change of heart and more to do with ambition.

“Why would these two particular sets of people have an interest in supporting, jumping on the Trump bandwagon? Well, their electoral fortunes, the members of Congress, are tied to Trump’s presidency, they’re tied to his electoral coattails. […] Donors are interested in access. They’re interested in having access to government officials. These Republican donors are not going to have access to Hillary Clinton. Their only hope for government access is a Trump presidency.”

But that type of desire for power plays out differently on the other side of the aisle. Bernie Sanders, Hassell says, may not necessarily endorse Clinton for a similar quid pro quo.

“You look at the people who have come around to Trump, they’re all ambition for some reason. Rick Perry wants to continue in Republican politics, members of congress want to continue to maintain their seats. So they see this as a strategic endorsement. ‘I’ll endorse this candidate to make them as strong as they possibly can so I can keep my seat. With Bernie, it’s different. You have to understand, what are his ambitions long-term? And what does a strong endorsement get him or not get him in terms of what he wants to do in the future.”

In this Politics Day of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Hassell and with Jim McCormick, professor of political science at Iowa State University, about the politics of the week.