Revolution from the Middle
Black and Latino voters increasingly embrace Trump's agenda. Republicans can't afford to squander it.
Though the political waters of the 2020 election remain murky, this much is clear: a specter is haunting the Republican Party—the specter of a realignment. Millions of Americans now see the GOP as a working-class redoubt, the base from which to prosecute a revolution from a middle that is dispossessed from above and abused from below. This populist revolt has been a long time coming.
“How big is this populist group?,” asked Michael Lind in The New Class War. Lind’s colleague, political scientist Lee Drutman, calculated in 2015 that “populists”—defined as those who favored maintaining or increasing Social Security spending while maintaining or decreasing immigration—constituted 40.3 percent of the electorate. By contrast, Lind noted, the two groups that wanted to cut Social Security and increase immigration, “business conservatives” (3.8 percent), or “neoliberals,” and “political conservatives” (2.4 percent), or “libertarians,” made up only 6.2 percent of voters.
Put simply, the Republican Party was irrelevant before Trump ignited the populist torch because its attitudes, opinions, and ideas appealed to so few Americans. That the messaging has been off for so long is a matter of money. “The business Republicans, whose preferences Republican politicians promote,” Lind writes, “on average make $69,711 a year, around $30,000 more than the Republican populists, whose preferences most Republican politicians ignore.” But no amount of money could have produced the energy, the phenomenon that rallied nearly 60,000 Americans in forgotten Butler, Pennsylvania.
There is, however, a problem. The Republican Party is either unaware of this realignment’s implications or is unwilling to see it through to its logical conclusions. The Latino question is illustrative of this issue, not because they are singularly important, but because their support for Trump and the party he reformed is either misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted.
To the chagrin of those who spent four years portraying him as evil, national exit polls show a third of Latinos cast their ballots for Trump. Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist, lamented that the percentage of Latinos voting for Trump actually increased from 2016. “Yet more evidence that we can’t depend on the ‘browning of America’ to dismantle white supremacy and erase anti-blackness,” Blow huffed. According to conservative analysts Katie Pavlich and Karl Rove, the Latino vote that caused Blow so much pain amounts to a referendum against socialism. Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino agrees and goes further: Latino turnout for Trump improved this time because he backed off immigration, his signature issue.
The Pavlich-Rove thesis might be correct for Cubans and Venezuelans in Florida, where Trump posted an 11-point improvement from his 2016 performance, bringing in 45 percent of the Latino vote. But it cannot adequately explain why in Texas, 41 percent to 47 percent of Latinos voted for Trump in heavily Latino counties that stretch across the Rio Grande Valley region. The border wall is being built before the eyes of these Latinos, sending Perino’s thesis back to the land of desiccated pre-realignment ideas.
The reality is that the populist message for immigration restrictionism is broadly appealing. In 2018, 58.5 percent of Latinos said they “support Donald Trump’s immigration policies” even if they disliked him personally. Amid mass unemployment and economic strain triggered by the pandemic panic, 69 percent of Latinos said “yes” when they were asked: “Would you support . . . temporarily blocking nearly all immigration into the United States during the coronavirus outbreak?” More immigration means more competition for jobs, lower wages, more crowded cities, more crime. Oddly enough, liberal media seems to understand this phenomenon better than many conservative sources.
A recent study in the New York Times asked eligible voters how “convincing” they found Republican Party messaging. The talking points included lines about “illegal immigration from places overrun with drugs and criminal gangs,” and “fully funding the police, so our communities are not threatened by people who refuse to follow our laws.” Nearly three out of five white respondents found these messages convincing, while precisely the same percentage of blacks agreed, as did an even higher percentage of Latinos. In a separate analysis for NBC News, Musa al-Gharbi, Paul F. Lazarsfeld fellow in Sociology at Columbia University, came to the same conclusions. “In other words, far from alienating minority constituencies, Trump’s messaging on immigration, law and order and cultural conservativism may be an important source of his appeal to many voters of color,” al-Gharbi wrote.
None of this is surprising. During nationwide rioting, Gallup polling revealed 83 percent of Latinos said they wanted more or the same police presence in their area. Along with blacks, Latinos were more likely than whites to say they wanted police to spend more time in their communities. Similarly, al-Gharbi notes, “Black Americans are more supportive of limiting immigration than any other bloc of the Democratic coalition,” and Latinos “actually tend to be more concerned about illegal immigration than are whites or Blacks.”
Indeed, an accelerant of the realignment is the intersectionality’s implosion. When disparate groups are bound by the tenuous ligature of loathing for whites, pulling in any one direction too hard is dangerous. Again, Republicans are missing this.
Fox News ran a survey in June and found 21 percent of Latinos said they supported Trump. Also, in June, ABC News ran a poll and found 54 percent of Latino Democrats supported deploying federal forces to assist police in quelling riots across the country. Sixty-percent of Latinos overall said the same. The Fox survey ran again in August and September, each time showing more support among Latinos for Trump; 34 percent in August and 38 percent in September, corresponding with Trump’s increasingly hard stance against rioting. Finally, in September, the Pew Research Center reported Latinos and whites accounted for the most notable decreases in Black Lives Matter support.
All of this is to say that the simplest explanation of the realignment is best: the law and order message, just like economic populism, foreign policy restraint, and immigration restrictionism, appeals broadly. Trump showed that millions of Americans want a leader and a party with a vision of order, capable of steering our national destiny toward a better future. But this realignment is already at risk. Misreading these events, either out of doltishness or duplicity, Jared Kushner and other Republican staffers ran the White House’s policy shops and much of the Trump reelection campaign into the ground, focusing singularly on issues antithetical to the principles of the realignment.
Criminal justice reform, a tax plan that disproportionately benefited the mostly progressive ruling class, liberalized immigration, attacks on Social Security, race-based affirmative action plans like the “Platinum Plan” for blacks, and the “American Dream Plan” for Latinos, took the place of law and order, economic populism, and immigration restrictionism—all of which effectively neglected Trump’s largest group of supporters, working-class whites. Ironically, were it not for the pandemic, the administration likely would have continued pursuing a more liberal immigration agenda.
Regardless of what happens in this election, we mustn’t allow the realignment Trump effected to be squandered by the Republican Party. This is not pro-corporate, pro-amnesty, “tax cuts” conservatism. This is a nascent working-class, blue and white collar movement, and it holds the keys to the future. Because, on the one hand, this is a genuine people’s movement, a movement capable of uplifting the lives of millions of decent, hardworking Americans. On the other hand, it is the only basis for a countervailing force capable of issuing a real challenge to the ruling class that decided America deserved to die, and that its people deserved to be forgotten.
Pedro L. Gonzalez is an assistant editor at American Greatness. Follow him on Twitter @emeriticus.