As a candidate, Donald Trump sold himself as an isolationist, decrying American involvement in foreign wars – particularly in the Middle East. The day after ordering a 105-missile air strike on Syria, some of Trump’s most passionate supporters, particularly on the far right, are in a kind of mourning over what they see as a profound betrayal of those campaign promises.
The backlash shows continued erosion of the Trump coalition, at least among commentators and talking heads, which could have significant implications for the upcoming midterm elections.
Most prominently, Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham both appeared skeptical of Trump’s decision.
In conversation with former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, Ingraham focused on the cost of the strike. “If we have a country that is desperately in debt, and getting weaker and weaker and weaker . . . year after year after year . . . someone is going to have to pay the piper. Two blocks from here we’ve got [lots] of people living out on the street. Many of them are American veterans.”
Her surprise is understandable, given Trump’s many past statements of opposition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as a 2011 tweet critical of “wasting money” in Afghanistan instead of “rebuild[ing] our country first.”
Shaun King of The Intercept, long critical of Trump from the left, seemed momentarily aligned with Ingraham as he detailed the cost of the strike, which he tallied at $224 million.
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Further down the food chain of conservative commentary, reactions were even more extreme. Alex Jones, an isolationist and far-right conspiracy theorist who has sometimes influenced Trump’s worldview, actually shed tears while responding to news of the bombing.
“We made so many sacrifices, and now he’s crapping all over us,” said Jones. “It makes me sick.”
Some pillars of Trump support have been muted in their response. At Breitbart.com this afternoon, just a few headlines addressed Syria, and showed no obvious editorial perspective. That hesitation at a crucial moment shows the outlet’s loss of vitality after the January departure of Steve Bannon. Bannon served as CEO of the Trump campaign, and briefly in the Trump administration, between stints as head of the far-right news site, and the site’s impact has plummeted since Bannon’s departure.
These signs of fracturing in the Trump coalition were triggered by a limited strike specifically aimed at deterring the use of chemical weapons in Syria and worldwide. They follow previous defections from the Trump camp, such as that of Ann Coulter over Trump’s inability to deliver his promised border wall. Coulter has also piled on criticisms of the Syria attack this morning on Twitter.
They add to already foreboding headwinds for Republicans ahead of the midterms, in which polls show a generic Democrat leading a generic Republican by more than seven points on average. Disappointment with Trump could accentuate that gap by suppressing turnout among voters who supported the President in 2016.