White Backlash Fueled Donald Trump’s Candidacy

Businessman Donald Trump gestures while making a speech in Fountain Hills, Arizona, March 19
Businessman Donald Trump gestures while making a speech in Fountain Hills, Arizona, March 19 (Gage Skidmore)

Edward Luce has an excellent essay in the Financial Times this weekend about how white working-class backlash in America has propelled Donald Trump’s candidacy.

He cites Carol Anderson, a professor of African American studies and author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, which appeared in May, arguing that the trigger for white rage is inevitably black advancement.

This is the subtext to proclamations like “let’s take our country back” and “make America great again” that can be heard at Trump’s rallies. Read more “White Backlash Fueled Donald Trump’s Candidacy”

Trump Voters Willing to Take Leap in the Dark

Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Catherine Rampell takes a closer look at Donald Trump’s economic plans and concludes they would be a disaster — especially for the native-born working-class voters the Manhattan businessman is appealing to.

One analysis suggests the American economy would be 6.5 percent smaller by 2021 if Trump had his way. It would also have 9.4 million fewer jobs.

And that doesn’t even take into account the possibility that he might default on America’s debt or bring back the gold standard. Trump has flirted with both. Read more “Trump Voters Willing to Take Leap in the Dark”

What Liberals Can Learn from Donald Trump

Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015 (Joshua M. Hoover)

Some Republicans in the United States have tried to make the case that Donald Trump, their party’s likely presidential nominee, is somehow the left’s fault.

Bobby Jindal, the former Louisiana governor and a failed presidential candidate, blamed Trump’s popularity on Barack Obama in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. After eight years of the Democrat’s cool and nuance, it was little wonder, Jindal argued, that voters longed for bluntness and “strength”.

That was followed by an article in The Daily Beast that said “political correctness” had created Trump. Britain’s The Spectator published something similar. At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum rejecting this thesis, but recognized it was not entirely without merit.

Before blaming others, conservatives should take a long, hard look in the mirror. There is more right- than left-wing complicity in Trump’s rise. I argued back in December that mainstream Republicans had for too long ignored or tried to co-opt the crazies among them. Conor Friedersdorf has made a similar argument in The Atlantic. Jonathan Bernstein argued much the same at Bloomberg View not long after Trump launched his presidential bid.

Even so, we can see that Trump is a reaction to liberal pressures in several ways. That’s not to say the left is to blame. But liberals can learn from this. Read more “What Liberals Can Learn from Donald Trump”

Donald Trump and the Strongman’s Temptation

Businessman Donald Trump gestures while making a speech in Fountain Hills, Arizona, March 19
Businessman Donald Trump gestures while making a speech in Fountain Hills, Arizona, March 19 (Gage Skidmore)

Gideon Rachman remarks in the Financial Times on the similarities between Donald Trump and other strongmen: men like Egypt’s Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

All have promised “to lead a national revival through the force of their personalities and their willingness to ignore liberal niceties,” Rachman writes.

In many cases, the promise of decisive leadership is backed up by a willingness — sometimes explicit, sometimes implied — to use illegal violence against enemies of the state.

Sisi has locked up thousands of political opponents in Egypt. Erdoğan rekindled Turkey’s internal war with the Kurds to win an election. Russian dissidents are mysteriously poisoned or shot.

Trump’s critics don’t end up dead. They do get roughened up at his rallies, where Trump speaks wishfully of punching protesters in the face and promises to pay the legal fees of anyone who does. Read more “Donald Trump and the Strongman’s Temptation”

How Did “the” Party Decide on Trump?

Businessman Donald Trump appears at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump appears at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump’s success in the Republican presidential contest has puzzled those of us who believe “the party decides.”

For the uninitiated: In 2008, four political scientists argued in The Party Decides that it is “the” party, broadly understood as a network of elected, local and state officials, donors, insiders and affiliated interest and lobby groups, that collectively decides presidential nominating contests by nudging voters in the right direction.

Or, as The Economist summarizes their argument: “parties tell the electorate how to vote, rather than voters telling the party whom to support.”

The four never argued that voters don’t matter. But their research into past presidential primaries, going back to the reforms of the late 1960s, which gave ordinary voters more power, suggested that the parties had figured out ways to manipulate the nominating process in favor of their preferred candidate.

In the case of Republicans, that typically meant following William F. Buckley’s advice to nominate the most conservative candidate who could win the general election.

Trump is clearly neither.

Most of what we think of as “the” party agreed from the start. Trump was endorsed by few elected officials. Former presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney both argued against him. Republican-friendly publications, like National Review, as well as Republican-affiliated think tanks and lobby groups, from the Cato Institute to the Club for Growth, actively campaigned against Trump. All to no avail.

So did “the” party fail? That’s one theory and there is something to it. Read more “How Did “the” Party Decide on Trump?”

Trump’s Supporters Want to Be Told What to Do

Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015 (Michael Vadon)

This website argued in January that Donald Trump’s supporters tend to be Americans who have been on the losing side of major economic and social battles and want a strong hand to set things right.

A Quinnipiac University survey released on Tuesday backs this up.

As reported by the Brookings Institution’s William A. Galston, the vast majority of Trump’s supporters feel they have been falling behind economically. 80 percent say the government has done too much to help minorities (as opposed to them). 91 percent agree with the statement, “My beliefs and values are under attack in America these days.”

The first sentiment is not altogether wrong. Trump’s supporters tend to be low-educated and working-class. They are the sort of people whose jobs get displaced when companies outsource manufacturing to Mexico or Vietnam.

The second sentiment helps explain why so many Republicans have been flummoxed by the businessman’s success in their presidential primary. Ideologically opposed to big government, they are shocked to find that a sizable minority of right-wing voters are perfectly fine with government largesse — so long as it benefits their own tribe.

The third part, about beliefs and values, goes to the argument we made, which is that these voters have lost ever major political argument of the last twenty years, whether it is feminism or gay rights or free trade or globalization, and have yet to come to terms with that. Read more “Trump’s Supporters Want to Be Told What to Do”

Jacksonian Americans Have Found Their Caesar

Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015 (Joshua M. Hoover)

National Review recently devoted an entire issue to proving that Donald Trump is not a conservative, calling the New York businessman a “philosophically unmoored political opportunist” who would trash the ideological consensus within the Republican Party if he wins its presidential nomination this year “in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”

George Will, a conservative columnist, argued much the same last year when he wrote that Trump was appealing to those Americans who, “understandably disgusted by government,” could be “beguiled by a summons to Caesarism.”

Those voters are not conservative in the sense that National Review and George Will are, though. Read more “Jacksonian Americans Have Found Their Caesar”

How America Earned Donald Trump

Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27
Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27 (Gage Skidmore)

From Coney Island apartment tower lord to Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump has come a long way. But nobody should assume the man has remade America: rather, his success is not in changing Americans but following the most profitable trends.

His real estate empire was built upon a New York City ready to renew itself at nearly any cost: his real estate deals capitalized on the frantic rebuilding of much of the city’s decayed infrastructure in the 1980s and 1990s. He set up casinos in New Jersey; he made himself into a reality TV star. He didn’t create such conditions but rather exploited them.

And this tendency explains virtually all his successes. Trump is not a man who invents trends: he exploits them. Now he is exploiting the Republican Party and the American electorate and Americans have no one but themselves to blame. Read more “How America Earned Donald Trump”

What Trump Represents Is Neither New Nor Unique

Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27
Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27 (Gage Skidmore)

In France, they vote for Marine Le Pen. In the United Kingdom, for Nigel Farage. And in the United States, they are supporting the presidential campaign of businessman Donald Trump, who is running as a Republican.

The billionaire’s base of support is neither surprising nor unique. His nationalist and politically incorrect rhetoric appeals to a particular segment of the American population that has seen its economic and political power decline in recent decades — just as in other Western democracies. Read more “What Trump Represents Is Neither New Nor Unique”

Trump Latest in Line of “Superhero” Candidates

Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19
Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19 (Michael Vadon)

The rise of property tycoon Donald Trump in the Republican Party’s presidential primaries may be emblematic of an American trend to seek “superheroes” for the nation’s highest office.

Megan McArdle, a Bloomberg View columnist, argues that Trump’s supporters — who, if the polls are to be believed, account for roughly a quarter of the conservative electorate — seem to think that he will escape the political constraints that have bedeviled previous Republican leaders with sheer will and imagination.

End birthright citizenship! Get Mexico to pay to build a wall! Force companies to build more stuff here! How? By being really tough. Don’t ask for details.

Trump is unlikely to win the Republican presidential nomination, let alone the 2016 election. But his candidacy is the extreme manifestation of an American inclination to vote for “change” every time politicians disappoint.

Voters rally to get a candidate elected, then call on the politician to stop technological change from tanking the local economy, to give them much more generous health care at half the cost of whatever they’ve currently got, to cut their taxes without touching Social Security or Medicare because they earned those benefits, to provide large new entitlements paid for entirely by taxing hedge fund managers, to reform the education system so that all the students will be above average, to defuse conflict in the Middle East and maybe leap some tall buildings in a single bound. You know, the usual.

No president can ever meet such high expectations. Rather than conclude they might be expecting too much from their leaders, though, at least some voters convince themselves they have simply elected the “wrong superhero”.

It is time to stop messing around with Squirrel Girl and Jack of Hearts and elect Superman, already. So the story starts all over again.

The reality is that getting things done is difficult, especially in the United States where, as McArdle puts it, the political system “is set up precisely to frustrate a powerful guy with a big idea.”

Governing is not like building a building; it’s not like running a business. It’s like, well, trying to herd three branches of government in roughly the same direction. These branches are composed of thousands of people, each of whom has their own agenda, and represents millions more, each of whom has their own agenda and will hound out of office anyone who strays too far from it.

It might be a wildly ponderous and inefficient way to do anything, McArdle writes, but it is the price Americans pay for representative democracy.

McArdle’s colleague Jonathan Bernstein argues that conservatives are particularly susceptible to the delusion that a strong-willed outsider can shake up the system and effect radical change.

Bernstein admits that the 2008 election of Barack Obama, a Democrat, was partially fueled by the same delusion. But at least he was a politician with some governing experience.

It’s another thing entirely to believe in Donald Trump — or Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. (Or Herman Cain or Steve Forbes.) Republican voters really are distinct in this way. They’re repeatedly easier marks for people who have no business getting anywhere near the Oval Office.

Bernstein volunteers several reason for why this is the case.

One is that voters who favor limited government may care less about governing experience. But if that’s the assumption, it’s mistaken, he argues. Politicians who shrank government — like Republican stalwart Ronald Reagan — were able to do so because they had experience in government. If they didn’t understand how government worked, they might never have been able to restrain it.

Secondly, Republicans may have been conditioned by their leaders to think simple solutions are worth pursuing, according to Bernstein.

Defeat the Soviet Union by exposing traitors in government! Cut taxes to raise revenues! Build a wall to solve immigration!

Democrats sometimes do the same. (Tax the 1 percent! Raise the minimum wage!) And simple-sounding solutions sometimes contain something sensible. But on the whole, Republicans do seem more prone to advocating simplistic policies than Democrats.

Finally, they are more prone to demagoguery. From Joseph McCarthy to Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, conservative leaders have told voters to trust in easy answers and believe that the normal frustrations of politics and international relations are the product of villains, collaborators and fellow travelers.

And, of course, they succeeded in convincing many Republican voters that any conservative politician who engages in the norms of democratic compromise is a traitor to the cause.

Do that for a few decades and what you get is Donald Trump.