This loose confederation of Web-savvy, anti-establishment right-wingers formed an important vanguard of Trump’s online support in last year’s election, and its unified opposition to the airstrike forewarns a political downside to intervention in Syria. While foreign wars tend to boost presidents’ popularity in the short term, Trump risks losing the segments of his base that flocked to his isolationist, “America First” message.
And there are plenty of examples:
The alt-right is a frightening faction within the Trump coalition—they may be disproportionately represented in the media compared to their relative size within that coalition, but they’re young, articulate, and internet-savvy, and so therefore are much better at making their presence known. They even went to Washington in their big-boy suits to hold a conference. And they have (or had) a surrogate in the White House in Steve Bannon. Unlike the rank-and-file Trump supporters, the alt-right has an actual agenda they want to enact.
So I don’t want to say that losing this faction wouldn’t hurt Trump in the long run. Small as the group might be (at least comparatively speaking), it’s still large enough to be a major mouthpiece for Trump on the internet, and considering the amount of fake news that was churned out during the election and the amount of people increasingly relying on Facebook memes for news, the group is indispensable.
Take the case of Trump’s accusation that Obama had his “wires tapped,” for example. Trump got the idea from an alt-right conspiracy theorist radio host which was then written about on Breitbart, and subsequently tweeted by the Cheetoh-in-Chief—and that turned into an international story with a congressional investigation. It’s a cornerstone of Trump’s base, a group whose approval he obviously craved because he never once bothered to sincerely denounce them despite all the opportunities.
But the alt-right isn’t likely to abandon Trump anytime soon—and even those who do ultimately decide to defect, most of them won’t accuse Trump of having been in on the “con” the whole time, but instead a helpless victim of “globalists” (read: Jews) and neocons who forced him into capitulation. The rest will come back to the Trump train because it’s their most viable channel to popularity and page clicks.
But this whole idea of “real Trump supporters” abandoning Trump, as many of these alt-righters claim will happen, is patently ridiculous:
The regular, everyday folk who support Trump probably rather enjoy Trump’s venture into Syria. It’s a show of strength, a rebuke of the supposedly flaccid Obama-era foreign policy. These people were never antiwar in principle—they were only ever antiwar when Uncle Donny said that Hillary Clinton would drag the US into a long and protracted conflict in Syria. But when he said he’d “bomb the shit out of [ISIS],” they went nuts:
And I doubt many know the difference between the Syrian government and ISIS.
The alt-right might be freaking out at the moment, but that’s just because their Dear Leader did something they believe (for no good reason) to be unexpected. Trump’s in the White House now. Having their support is a boon for him, but had I to put money on it, I’d bet they need him more than he needs them.