Trump ‘winning’ by preying on worst liberal and conservative instincts
Trump is trouble. That became clear on Saturday when Donald Trump decided to shut down a campaign rally in Chicago after he said violence had broken out. But it did not seem to do Trump a bit of harm at the polls three days later. He virtually sewed up the Republican nomination with victories in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina.
Now Trump is talking about the possibility of riots at the Republican National Convention if he is denied the nomination. The obvious conclusion: Many of his supporters are asking for trouble.
A group of conservatives is meeting in Washington this week to plot strategies to deny Trump the nomination if he fails to win a majority on the first ballot at the Republican convention in July. Even if Trump has more delegates than anyone else. If the party tries to take the nomination away from him, a Trump supporter warned, “We’ll burn the place down.”
Trump is a crude populist. That doesn’t say very much because populism is not any one thing.
There’s left-wing populism, which targets wealth and privilege (“country-club conservatives”). That’s Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with his relentless criticism of Wall Street and “the 1 percent.” There’s right-wing populism, which targets the snobbery and self-importance of the educated elite (“limousine liberals”). That’s Ben Carson with his relentless criticism of political correctness and the contempt of the well-educated for traditional religion.
Trump combines both.
Trump a left-wing populist? His attack on free trade is the same as Sanders’. Despite his wealth, he has no love for Wall Street (“The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder”). Nor they for him. Wall Street believes Trump would be a disaster for markets and the economy. The titans of Wall Street are spending millions of dollars on anti-Trump ads to try to deny him a majority of convention delegates.
Trump a right-wing populist? That would be his attacks on immigrants, minorities and women. Plus his embrace of old-fashioned isolationism where the United States avoids foreign intervention unless U.S. interests are directly threatened. Then we bomb them to smithereens. His strategy for dealing with Islamic State: “We bomb the shit out of ’em.”
Trump’s support cuts right across ideological categories. He does best among non-college-educated white voters, particularly men. That’s yet another element in Trump’s populism: the desire for a strongman. In 1959, the great sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset wrote about “working-class authoritarianism” — the predisposition to intolerant, extreme and undemocratic attitudes among “lower-class persons.”
Trump has expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump said on MSNBC. As for Putin’s methods, “I think our country does plenty of killing also.”
Trump’s latest Putinesque move is to deny access to his events to news organizations that have been critical of him: The Des Moines Register, Univision, Fusion, The Huffington Post, National Review, Mother Jones, Buzzfeed and, most recently, Politico. It’s the same message he delivers to protesters at his rallies: “Get ’em out of here!” In his victory speech on Tuesday night, he made sure to call the media “disgusting.”
Many Americans seem to want a strongman for the very reason Trump gave. Because no one in government can get anything done. Washington is mired in gridlock. Trump promises to get things done his way, which he doesn’t bother to explain except to promise that he can “make America great again.” He doesn’t even bother with experts and advisers. (Asked whom he is consulting on foreign policy, Trump answered “My primary consultant is myself.”) He wants to do it his way. Alone.
Why is Trump winning the Republican race? Keep in mind that the United States is the most populist country in the world. Next to the United States, the rest of the world is Saudi Arabia.
That’s because this country was originally settled by runaways from authority — oppressive governments, established churches, closed economies. Distrust of elites is a deep-seated value that runs throughout American history. Ever notice how rich and powerful people — business executives, politicians, bureaucrats – are portrayed in U.S. popular culture? Usually as incompetent, corrupt or worse.
American politics, like the American economy, is highly entrepreneurial. Where there is a market, there will be a product. If there is an unpopular war, there will be an antiwar candidate. If voters are unhappy about high taxes, there will be an anti-tax candidate. If the public is fed up with politics as usual, outsiders will suddenly spring up to carry the anti-politics banner, like Ross Perot in 1992. And now Trump.
Exit polls reveal that the one characteristic that best defines Trump supporters is anger. Asked “Which best describes your feelings about the way the federal government is working?” most voters who say “angry” — rather than “enthusiastic,” “satisfied” or “dissatisfied — are voting for Trump.
What are they angry about? Two things: economic decline and the loss of cultural influence.
Trump does best among voters from the declining sectors of American life. A study by the New York Times. “The Geography of Trumpism” found that Trump does best in places with high percentages of whites with no high school diploma and low numbers of ethnic and religious minorities, “old economy” jobs like agriculture and manufacturing and low labor force participation rates. Appalachia, for example.
They are Americans who have been left out of the economic recovery, whose jobs are threatened by foreign trade, who are declining demographically and whose traditional religious and cultural values are under challenge. They’re an angry resistance movement, and Trump is their resistance leader. Ideology? They hate liberals like President Barack Obama with their snobbish condescension. And they hate conservatives like Mitt Romney with their heedless rapacity.
If the conservative effort to stop Trump fails, there will be only one thing standing between him and the presidency — Hillary Clinton. It may pose an agonizing choice for many voters. Two well-known figures, long in the public eye, both negatively regarded by a majority of Americans. Trump more so than Clinton — which is what gives Democrats hope.
Americans can all look forward to the first debate between Trump and Clinton on Sept. 26 in Dayton, Ohio. Sparks will fly. And the viewership will set records.
NOTE: This piece has been updated.