Ed Kilgore has some really valuable insights in this post that examines a possible overlap between Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee’s supporters. Even the idea itself is interesting because the two men seemingly share virtually nothing in common. What they do share, though, is a willingness to buck Republican orthodoxy on entitlement reform and free trade. And that places them both, at least theoretically, in position to make an appeal to white working class voters who have drifted to the right since the 1960’s but who don’t share the GOP elite’s economic priorities.
The flip side of all the talk about Democratic prospects to regain some of the white working class vote (see our most recent roundtable on the subject here at WaMo in conjunction with The Democratic Strategist, based on Stan Greenberg’s advice in the current issue of our magazine) is that this demographic has entered the Republican coalition without necessarily internalizing the economic views of GOP elites. So much as the “Reagan Democrats” represented a potentially rebellious segment of the Democratic coalition back in the day, today’s blue-collar Republicans are vulnerable not just to a “raid” from Democrats but from heretical Republicans who defect from party orthodoxy on hot-button issues like trade and entitlements. That’s probably an important part of Trump’s otherwise mysterious constituency.
Now, the thing is that I’m not sure how “mysterious” Donald Trump’s constituency really is. For example, I think Steve M. understands and can explain his constituency perfectly. I think John Cole, who used to be a wingnut himself, understands Trump’s appeal just fine. I think Josh Marshall has internalized the true nature of the Conservative Movement and why Trump fits in with them so comfortably despite his numerous heresies.
Maybe bloggers as a class have some kind of inherent advantage over Beltway reporters when it comes to understanding why Trump is doing so well and seems so impervious to the kinds of criticisms that have sunk other candidates at relatively recent points in history. For me, I don’t find it all that complicated, and this isn’t too far off the mark:
While there’s certainly some constancy and continuum between the anti-fluoridation John Birch Society nutcases of the 1950’s and the long-form birth certificate losers of the present, the Republican Party as an organization has never before been so helpless to fend off its crazies.
That’s why, ultimately, I think it’s basically a mistake to expect the people who are still self-identifying as Republicans or conservatives to choose a candidate based on how that candidate aligns with them on issues like trade or the size of their Social Security check. You shouldn’t expect them to flinch when veterans are disrespected anymore than you should expect them to flinch when they hear that al-Qaeda is sending women to Texas to have babies who will grow up and form terrorist sleeper cells. You know, if they’re already supporting Trump after the birth certificate nonsense, their standards for truth and reality-based thinking are so low that we should just consider their brains to be broken.
I’m not saying that there’s absolutely no correlation between what a candidate says substantively about policy and the kind of voters who will support them, but the relationship is so attenuated at this point that it won’t reliably predict who does well in the polls and why. And that’s why this sounds about right:
Try this hypothesis: The press has no idea how to cover Trump. Known methods have failed. It's embarrassed to admit to an unsolved problem.
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) July 21, 2015
Now, it’s one thing to say that you don’t know whether to put Trump in your political coverage or your entertainment coverage, but it’s another to admit that you just can’t honestly come to grips with the fact that the modern GOP is this much of a disgrace.
The party is supposed to stand for things, some of them broadly considered laudable, others highly contentious. But it doesn’t stand for much anymore beyond being a party of opposition and obstruction that is filled with incredibly angry people who are furious about immigration and despise establishment politicians like John McCain just as much as they loathe elite educational institutions like Harvard. These aren’t rah-rah patriotic Americans because they increasingly fear and hate this country. Science is their enemy, too, which makes them mistrust academics and experts all the more. What they want is vengeance, and the candidate who seems most likely to deliver it is the one they will support.
If you ask them, they’ll probably complain about the outsourcing of jobs and oppose entitlement reform, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll hold a vote for fast track against Ted Cruz if he’s doing the best job of slandering their political opponents. Their anger is so potent at this point that many who are primarily motivated by simple race-hatred will look to an African-American like Ben Carson or a Cuban-American like Cruz precisely because they’re willing to diss their own ethnic communities.
I still see poll results that indicate that the crazification factor is holding relatively constant at 27 percent. And it could be that Trump can’t get beyond that threshold. What’s changed, however, is that Republicans are now thoroughly terrified and will not willingly contradict the crazies.
And this is why it doesn’t help as much as it should to think of the current polling results in terms of runoff elections. In other words, if we had conservative poll respondents list their choices from favorite to least favorite, Trump wouldn’t be doing nearly as well. The error here is thinking that the problem is Trump. If Trump disappears, his voters still stay with us and they migrate to Carson or Perry or Cruz or Santorum or, yes, Huckabee. It doesn’t really matter where they go so long as they are able to boost the most racist and revenge-minded sounding candidate into contention.
The media don’t want to consider this. They want the problem to be contained to Trump, as if Snowball Snookie was any more rational, any nicer, or made any more sense.
So, the story here isn’t that the establishment’s favored candidate, Jeb Bush, is going to lose. He may well emerge victorious from this madhouse looking competent and responsible by comparison. The story isn’t about what Trump will or won’t do in the debates. The story is about the current state of the modern GOP, and it looks just as bad whether you’re looking at Trump or you’re looking at Rand Paul and Ted Cruz holding up the national transportation-funding bill over a doctored Planned Parenthood video. This is the party that forced the president to seriously consider minting trillion dollar coins to avoid letting Congress default on our debts and cause a worldwide recession.
Where is this party on the basic reality on subjects like international sanctions on Iran, the real effects of Obamacare, the seriousness and causes of Climate Change, or the merits of doomed Supreme Court challenges?
You want a story? The story is that this party is dangerous and they have a lot of power. Trump doesn’t make them more dangerous. He doesn’t really add anything except a little clarity to the situation.
So, why do these folks like Trump? Why don’t they punish him for his multitude of gaffes and heresies?
Well, why do people think Fox News is a real news organization?
What someone said yesterday no longer matters if it isn’t convenient today. A good example of this came back in 2012 when Newt Gingrich criticized the president for inaction on Libya on a Tuesday, reversed himself once the president announced our involvement on a Wednesday, and wound up with a bump in the polls for his efforts. All that mattered was that he was loud and he was a critic.
Just like Donald Trump.