Donald Trump and His Allies Trapped by Doctrine of Conformity They Created

Donald Trump's rallies are raucous occasions, his speeches accentuated by the sound of supportive cheers and loving chants.

With such adoration typically aimed at the former president by his devoted base, the sound of boos at a recent Alabama rally was an unfamiliar one.

Both he and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) were the targets of such jeers—Trump after encouraging people to get the COVID vaccine and the congressman for suggesting people should move on from the 2020 election.

The latter has since backtracked on his comments and said he continues to support audits of the last election following the instantaneous backlash.

Trump, who wants credit for the development of vaccines, cannot so easily renege on his comments. But he might be advised to temper his remarks in the future.

This back and forth could continue into other hot-button topics as Trump tries to maintain the intense relationship with his supporters. While Trump wants his base to remain devoted to him—they've made it clear they demand uncritical loyalty back.

"Trump and the Republicans who blindly supported him have created a monster they can no longer control," Brian Klaas, an associate professor in global politics at University College London, told Newsweek.

Klaas suggested that Trump's base of support is veering to be more extreme—and those who follow that "stand out as breakout stars," while the minority who try to temper it "risk seeing their careers in the party die."

"And while Trump still has a powerful hold over his base, he got a glimpse of the fact that they will demand unwavering extremism on key issues, even from him," Klaas said.

Throughout his political career, Trump has demanded loyalty from people close to him—turning on those in his orbit unwilling to toe his line, with Vice President Mike Pence a high-profile example of his wrath against those who refused.

That demand for steadfast support might now have spread, and be something expected back from Trump to his followers.

"The irony is clear: Trump has been so wildly successful in stitching a cultish straightjacket of political conformity—where no deviation is tolerated—that it's now even constricting his own movement," Thomas Gift, lecturer in political science and founding director of the Centre on U.S. Politics at University College London, told Newsweek.

"At the same time, part of Trump's uncanny ability to resonate with the GOP base lies in his lack of strong ideological convictions. Unlike other politicians, who might continue to make a point they believe even if it's unpopular with voters, Trump has no qualms about turning on a dime.

"It's very possible that, after months of equivocating about the merits of the vaccine, his endorsement at his latest rally was simply a trial balloon to see how it would fly. But clearly Trump can take a hint. If the pro-vaccine message—even one couched in the language of personal choice—falls flat, he will ditch it in a hurry.

"Going forward, Trump may indeed find that—like other Republican politicians—even he himself is subordinate to 'Trumpism.' If that's true, it's yet more undeniable evidence of the profound and enduring impact he's had on reinventing the modern Republican Party."

The requirement for sensitivity towards Trump's base is not necessarily new.

Jon Herbert, senior lecturer in the school of social, political and global studies at Keele University and a co-author of The Ordinary Presidency of Donald J. Trump, suggests the former president might never have really been entirely in control of his base.

Herbert told Newsweek: "He'll demand loyalty from his administration and the elite of his party, but he has always been very sensitive to the base—or at least, their opinion as read by him through certain media commentators, rallies and certain legislators. That's not a demand for loyalty but an almost paranoid responsiveness.

"He knew his political career was founded on 'the base' and worked to stay sensitive to them, and tailored messages for them at every turn. I'd argue he never could 'control the monster he's created'—as some of the coverage has it—but was always embroiled in a difficult, rolling negotiation with them.

"He's also very prone to testing lines out in rallies and then disowning them. Given the audience response, it's perfectly possible we won't hear him discuss vaccines again for a while unless he's put on the spot in interviews."

Another aspect that could be impacting Trump's sway over his base is his lack of social media and dwindling media presence.

"Trump was booed for recommending vaccine use in the most vaccine-skeptical state" Richard Johnson, lecturer in U.S. politics and policy at Queen Mary University of London, told Newsweek.

"He was positioning himself squarely against the policy preferences of his base, which is quite unusual for Trump.

"What is interesting to me is that surveys show that when Republican voters are told in surveys that Trump is pro-vaccine, Republican support for the vaccine increases, but there is still sizeable dissent.

"It suggests that while Trump is out of the limelight and unable to control the news agenda—in part because of his inability to tweet—he cannot shape the issue space as he once did."

Due to that, Trump may have to emulate a tactic he embarked upon in the past for future political success.

"This returns him to the position he was in 2015/16. At that time, Trump could not simply declare a policy preference and Republican voters would follow," Johnson said.

"Trump entered into a policy space which was already widely held by the Republican electorate: Opposition to open immigration. Moreover, nearly all of the other Republicans candidates were not on the same page as the base. Trump at that time was 'hunting where the ducks were.

"I imagine that in advance of 2024, Trump will be more careful not to take stances that run in opposition to his supporters' views, at least on highly salient or emotive issues. Otherwise, he risks the same fate as his Republican primary opponents in 2016."

Newsweek has contacted Trump's office for comment.

donald trump speaking at alabama rally
Former U.S. President Donald Trump addresses supporters during a "Save America" rally at York Family Farms on August 21, 2021 in Cullman, Alabama. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images