Home/Rod Dreher/‘The Revolution Is At Hand’

‘The Revolution Is At Hand’

'Get in, punk. We're going to make America great again.' (Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com)

New poll out from CNN shows that 41 percent of Republicans nationwide favor Trump — a new high for him. Says CNN:

That more than doubles the support of his nearest competitor, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who notches 19% support in the poll. No other candidate hit double-digits. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio landed at 8%, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 6%, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 5%, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 4%, and the rest at 3% or less.

Turns out that Trump leads in every demographic category. The only two in which he doesn’t blow everybody else out of the water is among Tea Party enthusiasts and college graduates — but even with them, he leads the pack. And nobody else can touch him when it comes to enthusiasm among voters:

And the prospect of a Trump candidacy generates more enthusiasm overall (40% of Republican voters say they would be enthusiastic about a Trump nomination) than the possibility of Cruz (25% enthusiastic) or Rubio (18% enthusiastic) at the head of the ticket.

Finally, look at this:

Trump’s dominance continues when voters assess which of the GOP candidates would best handle top issues.

Trump holds his widest advantage on handling the economy: 60% of GOP voters say Trump would best handle it, a 48-point lead over Ted Cruz. Likewise, Trump has a 55% to 16% edge on handling illegal immigration.

Read the whole thing. Here’s a good companion piece: Ryan Lizza’s long report from the campaign trail, following Trump and Cruz. These passages jumped out at me when I read it last night:

Trump’s fans tend to express little regard for political norms. They cheer at his most outlandish statements. O’Reilly asked Trump if he meant it when he said that he would “take out” the family members of terrorists. He didn’t believe that Trump would “put out hits on women and children” if he were elected. Trump replied, “I would do pretty severe stuff.” The Mesa crowd erupted in applause. “Yeah, baby!” a man near me yelled. I had never previously been to a political event at which people cheered for the murder of women and children.

This is barbarism. It really is, and it’s disgusting. That’s the kind of thing lots of people point to and dismiss the Trump people as a mob of rabble. But there’s a lot more to the Trump phenomenon:

“We’re just tired of the actions of the government nowadays,” Karon Stewart, who is fifty-nine years old, told me after a rally in Mississippi. “The simple people pretty much have been forgotten.”

She said that she has followed Trump’s tabloid life on TV, and last year, when she heard him speak about politics, she registered to vote for the first time. She was not persuaded by arguments that Trump has been disrespectful to women and would have trouble running against Hillary Clinton. “I am a woman,” she said. “I wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton if she was the last person on the face of the earth. She is a disgrace to womankind.”

Stewart said that Trump supporters were misunderstood. “We’re not racist,” she told me. “We’re not prejudiced. We just love everybody. But we’re tired of being run over.”

She added, “My husband is in his fifties. He’s got one leg. But he gets out there and works two almost-full-time jobs, seventeen hours every day, Monday through Friday. And he works on the weekends. But there are people out there that we’re paying welfare who’ve got two perfectly good legs, and they just won’t get up off of their tushies to get a job.”

“That’s pitiful,” her husband, Bob, who lost his leg in a construction accident, said. “I think Trump will change that.”

Let that sink in. Remember, according to the CNN poll, Trump’s strongest suit by a long shot with voters is their trust in him, above all his competitors, to handle the economy. More from Lizza’s report:

Rather than deliver ideological lectures, the G.O.P. needs to find a candidate and an agenda that can realistically address the economic anxieties of its base without succumbing to Trump-style bigotry.

After Trump’s rally in Biloxi, I talked to Joanna Patterson, who is forty-four years old. She said that she and her husband, Paul, who is forty-five and used to watch Trump on “The Apprentice,” are deeply religious Pentecostal Christians who follow the teachings of Christ’s Twelve Apostles. “We don’t believe that a woman should cut her hair. We’re like Kim—”

“The one that wouldn’t do the marriage licenses,” her husband interjected.

“Kim Davis?” I asked, referring to the Kentucky official who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses last year.

“Yes,” Patterson said. “We’re the same thing as her.” Patterson said she can pick out other Apostolics, especially women, by the way they dress—long skirts, no makeup—and she was pleasantly surprised to see that there were many at the Trump event. She conceded that Trump was not religious and hadn’t shown a commitment to any of the social issues she cared about. But she liked him because he showed “strength” and says “whatever he wants to say without having someone buffer it for him.” She explained that forthrightness, more than any particular issue, was at the foundation of her own religion.

“We like raw truth,” Patterson said. “Tell us what we need.”

Again, I refer you to the political career of Edwin W. Edwards, the four-term Louisiana governor who was wildly popular, even though he was widely known to be a womanizer, and believed to be corrupt. For decades, this frustrated Louisiana Republicans to no end. Edwin — who is a teetotaler and a non-smoker — would go to the big summer camp meeting of the Pentecostals, among the most conservative of all Louisianians, and rally them. One of this blog’s readers, citing the late Louisiana political journalist John Maginnis’s work, pointed out the other day the time in the early 1980s when both Edwards and his incumbent GOP opponent, the decent but dull Gov. Dave Treen, appeared before the camp meeting in an election year. Treen told the crowd, essentially, “I believe in the same things you believe in.” But Edwin, the womanizing crook, told them, “I am one of you.” Guess who won the crowd, and the election?

Joanna Patterson could have been at that camp meeting.

If you wonder how in the world a self-identified conservative could identify with a crude, much-married billionaire who is not particularly conservative in any conventional sense of the term, well, consider how a Louisiana Pentecostal could identify with a tomcatting gambler widely believed to be corrupt. This is what Huey P. Long did too, though he certainly had a philosophy and policies. He (accurately!) posited himself as an outsider hated by the political Establishment of his day, and rallied those who believed that that same Establishment did not have their best interests at heart.

David Brooks is freaking out, and can’t bring himself to face that this is actually happening. Excerpt:

[S]ooner or later the candidates from the governing wing of their parties will get their acts together. Marco Rubio has had a bad month, darkening his tone and trying to sound like a cut-rate version of Trump and Cruz.

Before too long Rubio will realize his first task is to rally the voters who detest or fear those men. That means running as an optimistic American nationalist with specific proposals to reform Washington and lift the working class.

If he can rally mainstream Republicans he’ll be at least tied with Trump and Cruz in the polls. Then he can counter their American decline narrative, with one of his own: This country is failing because it got too narcissistic, became too much like a reality TV show. Americans lost the ability to work constructively to get things done.

Is that a compelling narrative? Is it even a plausible one? Is it more plausible than the narrative that for a generation, the ruling elites — the Clinton Democrats and the Republicans — have presided over the systematic destruction of the working class and its culture for the sake of making very rich people even richer. The Democrats today care more about making it safe for women with penises to change in your high school daughter’s locker room and to empower liberal activists to destroy your small business and your institutions if you object to their cultural agenda. And the Republicans don’t care — they pander to religious conservatives, but the truth is otherwise, as I learned from GOP Congressional sources last fall, who told me there is zero chance that the Republican Congress will do a thing to protect religious institutions in the post-Obergefell legal environment. They are too afraid of being called bigots, and besides, big business is now on the other side. What really matters is that the world stays safe for tax cuts, free trade, and foreign wars.

David Frum’s analysis of the GOP crack-up is worth a second read. This, especially:

The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder howwhite male became an accusation rather than a description.

You can measure their pessimism in polls that ask about their expectations for their lives—and for those of their children. On both counts, whites without a college degree express the bleakest view. You can see the effects of their despair in the new statistics describing horrifying rates of suicide and substance-abuse fatality among this same group, in middle age.

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, “That’s my guy.”


Yet even as the Republican Main Street protested Obamacare, it rejected the hardening ideological orthodoxy of Republican donors and elected officials. A substantial minority of Republicans—almost 30 percent—said they would welcome “heavy” taxes on the wealthy, according to Gallup. Within the party that made Paul Ryan’s entitlement-slashing budget plan a centerpiece of policy, only 21 percent favored cuts in Medicare and only 17 percent wanted to see spending on Social Security reduced, according to Pew. Less than a third of ordinary Republicans supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants (again according to Pew); a majority, by contrast, favored stepped-up deportation.

As a class, big Republican donors could not see any of this, or would not. So neither did the politicians who depend upon them. Against all evidence, both groups interpreted the Tea Party as a mass movement in favor of the agenda of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. One of the more dangerous pleasures of great wealth is that you never have to hear anyone tell you that you are completely wrong.

Frum says that the question facing the GOP Establishment (in whose number I would include think-tankers, professional conservatives, and sympathetic media figures) is: “What happens to an elite whose followers withdraw their assent?”

The WaPo asked Pat Buchanan why the themes he sounded in his 1990s presidential campaigns are finally mainstream, thanks to Trump. He said:

What’s different today is that the returns are in, the results are known. Everyone sees clearly now the de-industrialization of America, the cost in blood and treasure from decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the pervasive presence of illegal immigrants. What I saw at the San Diego border 25 years ago, everyone sees now on cable TV. And not just a few communities but almost every community is experiencing the social impact.

The anger and alienation that were building then have reached critical mass now, when you see Bernie Sanders running neck and neck with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire and Trump and Ted Cruz with a majority of Republican voters. Not to put too fine a point on it, the revolution is at hand.

But … but … free trade is always and everywhere good, right? It’s what the Republican Party Catechism says. It’s what the Democratic Party has said since the era of Bill Clinton. Both parties have favored deregulating Wall Street — Robert Scheer, writing from the Left, reminds us of what the Clinton-led party did for its Wall Street funders — though there are signs that Hillary is defecting from Clintonian orthodoxy.

The most shocking thing about Trump’s rise and rise is what it tells us about the crash of the conservative intellectual establishment. One more bit from Lizza:

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Trump’s rise is that the arguments from people like Kristol, Wehner, Gerson, and Will, who have spent their lives trying to define conservatism, have had so little impact. “Republicans Have Overestimated the Conservatism of the Base,” blared a recent headline in National Review bemoaning the victory of Trump’s populism. In The Week, conservative columnist Michael Brendan Dougherty recently wrote, “What so frightens the conservative movement about Trump’s success is that he reveals just how thin the support for their ideas really is.”

Just like that, it’s evaporating. Back in ’02, I learned in doing interviews and research for a story about the Netherlands that the conservatism of the country’s institutions collapsed virtually overnight in the 1960s, because pressure from the rising counterculture revealed that most people simply didn’t believe in them and their values anymore. The trauma of World War II and the Nazi occupation had shattered the social conservatism of Dutch society, and its belief in the pre-war order.

Could it be that the events of the last decade are finally taking their toll on the GOP Establishment, which gives little indication of having learned any lessons from the twin disasters of the Iraq War and the economic crash? The other day I was talking to a friend, a working-class white guy who is an Iraq War vet. When I asked him years ago what his judgment on the war was, he said simply, “A waste.” He’s a Republican. I asked him who he was backing this year. “Cruz,” he said. I didn’t have to ask why.

“A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation,” said Edmund Burke. It’s true of political party establishments as well. It would have been helpful to the Republicans and to Conservatism™, Inc. to have heeded Burke’s wisdom seven or eight years ago. It’s too late now, as each day’s news cycle reveals.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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