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Pauline Kael Republicans?


Matthew Continetti had a nice reflection this morning on the wacked-out mindset of the GOP leadership:

Donald Trump has become the Republican frontrunner because GOP primary voters want an outsider who is angry at the condition of the country and the party establishment. And yet, GOP officials are so frightened of the transformation of the party under Donald Trump that they want the remaining candidates to stay in the race to deny him a majority of delegates and force a contested party convention in July.

Doesn’t this strategy prove exactly the point that Trump supporters (and to some extent Cruz supporters) are trying to make? You have a party in the midst of historic change, and your strategy is to deny that party’s voters the right to nominate their preferred candidate? And you think this will help you win in the fall? My mind reels.

Continetti goes on:

What [GOP leaders] refuse to accept is the possibility that the party is already broken. They don’t want to face the difficult and painful choices that the rise of Donald Trump presents.

There is no such thing as a simple explanation for the Donald Trump phenomenon, but I think a big part of it — perhaps the thing GOP and conservative elites have the hardest time understanding — is that the narrative they have used to explain themselves to themselves over the past 30 years is dead. In the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, we suffered through the ritual invocation of Ronald Reagan’s name, which, it is now clear, was a kind of spell meant to occlude the fact that the Republican Party was as out of ideas today as the Democratic Party was in the 1980s.

The saying is that it’s hard to get a man to understand something if his paycheck depends on his not understanding it. That insight may explain why the conservative leadership class didn’t see Trump coming, and keeps getting poleaxed by him. Is it not possibly the case that their own voters have come to believe that their party pretends to listen to them, but in fact cares about nothing but the interests of wealthy donors — whose interests are not the same as the little guy’s?

Think about Trump in terms of this must-read article by Christopher Caldwell, writing about the migrant situation in France. Excerpts:

You might think France is sitting on a powder keg, that its heavily immigrant suburbs are about to “blow.” But that is not exactly what is going on. There is a new political configuration in France, which is best addressed by looking first not at ethnicity, class, or ideology but at territory, which explains them all. In his 2014 book La France Périphérique, “geographer” Christophe Guilluy, whom we would call a sociologist, provides a thoroughly original way of looking at France. It also sheds light on our own country.

France has been cut in two by the globalization of its economy. The urban upper classes of Paris and a couple of other cities (aeronautical Toulouse, for instance, or bohemian Montpellier) have never been better off. They are in like Flynn. But the benefits have been poorly spread. The middle class is shrinking. The gap between rich and poor is growing. Thus far the analysis is conventional. But Guilluy changes it all by asking a bold question: Why would you expect Paris to have a middle class?

Paris’s prospects have improved because it has specialized. The division of labor has become global. Paris is now a place for couturiers, writers, film directors, CEOs, and other “symbolic analysts,” the people who design, direct, conceive, and analyze things. But the jobs the middle class used to do all over France — manufacturing, mostly — are best done elsewhere. You would not expect a middle class in Paris any more than you would expect one on a cattle ranch. That’s not what Paris is for. Guilluy measures this shift by looking at the “appropriation of working-class housing stock”— what we call gentrification — by rich people who can use Paris in a way that the old working and middle class cannot.

Ten years ago, I was walking around the fairytale Left Bank with a French friend, admiring it all. He said that it is indeed beautiful, but I need to remember that this is Disneyland Paris. The middle classes are gone. You have mostly upper-middle and uppers in the city core, and poor immigrants surrounding them in the banlieues (suburbs). More Caldwell:

Even if Paris does not need a middle class, it desperately needs a lowerclass. Those symbolic analysts require people to chop their sushi, mix their cocktails, dust their apartments, and push their children’s strollers and their parents’ wheelchairs. This means immigrants — and increasingly it means only immigrants. Because who would you rather have washing your bathtub for 12 euros an hour? A laid-off factory worker who used to get 30 euros an hour and seven weeks’ vacation and who is now looking daggers at you? Or a polite woman from Mali, for whom the smell of Formula 409 is the smell of liberation?

The banlieues are an integrated part of the world economy. There is now an immigrant-descended petite bourgeoisie. Naturally, as rich people monopolize the private housing stock, poor newcomers monopolize the welfare housing. Far from being a drain on rich people’s taxes, these projects provide subsidized housing for their servants. Big problems will eventually come, because there is no next rung on the social ladder onto which the migrants’ children can step. But this is not an acute problem just yet. For now, worrying about the banlieues is something of a red herring.

The acute problem is the reconstitution, recomposition, displacement, and — to use a favorite word of Guilluy’s — eviction of the native working and middle classes from the productive parts of the urban economy. These natives are locked out of a France that they thought belonged to them. The rich have bid up the price of urban real estate to the point where those from outside the metropolis cannot afford even to rent it. Public housing is not an option because its inhabitants are almost never French and are very often Muslim. To move into it is to become a despised minority in one’s “own” country. A question of social class thus turns, poisonously, into a question of ethnic identity and ethnic exclusion.

This reconfiguration of French society is not the immigrants’ fault. But the most explosive potential problems in France have everything to do with immigration. The system’s main beneficiaries defend mass immigration as if it were a matter of civilizational life or death.

One final quote, and this is relevant to us:

A journalist or sociologist or businessman looking only at Paris, with the best faith in the world, cannot form an objective view of whether France is doing well. You talk to rich and poor, old and young, black and white, male and female, immigrant and native .  .  . but these are all people for whom France is “working.” What is more, the mainstream sources from whom one might absorb alternative information — journalists, television broadcasters, comedians — all inhabit this same world. Those who do not are so absolutely invisible that they cannot even be analyzed. [Emphasis mine — RD]

Read the whole thing. You really need to, because Caldwell goes on to explain the relevance of this to our own unsettling political moment.

What if the people who respond to Donald Trump’s appeal are so absolutely invisible to the Republican establishment that they cannot even be analyzed? And not only to the Republican establishment, but to the kind of conservatives who are basically satisfied with the Republican Party and what it stands for?

I have lots of Republican friends, but I don’t know that I have more than one or two for Trump, or who admit to being for Trump. Remember the famous line attributed to New Yorker movie critic Pauline Kael? “How did Nixon win? I don’t know a single person who voted for him.” That. It’s pretty clear that not only the Republican Party leadership, but a whole bunch of GOP regulars, are Pauline Kael Republicans.

The Republican Party as we know it is not going to survive this year, and in fact is already dead. If Trump gets the most delegates and is denied the nomination somehow, that’ll tear the party apart. If Trump gets the nomination, it’s going to tear the party apart. If Trump gets the nomination and wins the presidency, it’s going to tear the party apart.

I don’t see how it goes back now to what it was. Nobody saw this coming, because the Trump voters were invisible to a whole lot of us (me included), for whom America works.

Why do you suppose that is? Well, Tucker Carlson explained a lot of it back in January. It’s worth revisiting his piece. Excerpt:

Let that sink in. Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.

It turns out the GOP wasn’t simply out of touch with its voters; the party had no idea who its voters were or what they believed. For decades, party leaders and intellectuals imagined that most Republicans were broadly libertarian on economics and basically neoconservative on foreign policy. That may sound absurd now, after Trump has attacked nearly the entire Republican catechism (he savaged the Iraq War and hedge fund managers in the same debate) and been greatly rewarded for it, but that was the assumption the GOP brain trust operated under. They had no way of knowing otherwise. The only Republicans they talked to read the Wall Street Journal too.

On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

And so on. It’s Christopher Caldwell’s same point about France and French elites. Pete Spiliakos gets to why Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio miss the mark:

Conservative populism cannot catch a break. The party’s elite’s have a stranglehold on policy. As Reihan Salam has pointed out, most Republicans are opposed to increasing immigration, but most Republican office holders favor vastly increasing immigration when they think the voters aren’t looking. Only about one-third of Republicans favor tax cuts on the wealthy, but all the Republican candidates favor sharply lower taxes on the rich. What is worse, even when Republican politicians try to appeal to populist conservatives, they fail miserably at crafting a message and agenda aimed at wage-earners. This has left the field open for a charlatan like Donald Trump.

Spiliakos goes on to explain why these voters aren’t buying what Cruz and Rubio are selling. The white working class (in particular), having realized that the Republican Party’s leadership doesn’t care about it, is returning the favor. It took somebody rich enough to not have to depend on GOP donors or GOP networks to articulate their rage. They’re not Democrats because they know that however hostile Republican elites are to their interests, the Democrats are worse.

None of this is sufficient reason to justify a Trump vote. But understanding what’s happening, and understanding that it is not happening because Trump people are all a pack of crazy haters, is essential to figuring out how to put together whatever kind of Republican Party is going to emerge from the ruins.

It’s going to be very difficult for Republican elites to see the future when they cannot even bring themselves to see the present clearly.

UPDATE: This comment from WhiskeyBucks:

Oh man, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to say about the Trump victory in Massachusetts. I couldn’t understand Trumpism until I saw the polls leading up to Super Tuesday in my home state.

Look, you’ve got Boston, the lifeblood of the state, an ostensible bulwark of progressive liberalism full of and controlled by wealthy, ostensible progressive liberals, and then you’ve got, well, everyone else, everywhere else. On one hand, Boston liberals give us Kennedy’s and Liz Warrens and scream about income inequality and social justice and write off anyone “on the wrong side of history” as human trash. On the other hand, for the last decade, they’ve arranged the state economy to usher in the reign of young, hyper-educated, high-earning city-tenant overlords at the expense of everyone else. Jobs are moving into a city that’s becoming harder and harder to get into, so suburb property values are either tanking if too far from the city, while the jobs leave, or close-proximity suburb rents are becoming impossible for the working-class to afford, so they are forced out into the cold more and more.

If I’m a white janitor in Somerville, with lingering, vague Catholic cultural influence who was raised in a racially complicated state, I’m pressed on all sides EXCEPT from people who share my anxieties and cultural identifiers. Those compatriots are the only social reference I have left that makes me feel part of America. I have no economic future because both parties have let me down. Liberals think I’m scum and reneg on their liberal economic promises anyway, and the conservative donor class doesn’t think about me at all until they need their gutters cleaned. (If you’re a black guy in Dorchester, God help you, the rich kids are coming and they will gentrify your community into oblivion.) Then comes along this guy Trump who tells me EXACTLY what I want to hear and doesn’t make me feel ashamed of myself. CAN YOU GUESS WHAT I’M GOING TO DO NEXT?



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