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Trump Plucked The Populist Apple

GOP gatekeepers, insiders, didn't see him coming, though the signs have been there for at least a decade

Take a look at the 2005 Political Typology report by the Pew Center. Note well that this came out over a decade ago. That is, before the economic crash of 2007-08, and before disillusionment with the Iraq War and the Bush administration had taken hold.

Here are the relevant takeaways:

A total of 46 percent of registered voters — Republicans and Republican-leaning independent — had in 2005 a political profile that fits with the Trump brand.

  • Those Pew defined as “Social Conservatives” were 13 percent of all voters in 2005. Pew defined them as: “While supportive of an assertive foreign policy, this group is somewhat more religious than are Enterprisers. In policy terms, they break from the Enterprisers in their cynical views of business, modest support for environmental and other regulation, and strong anti-immigrant sentiment.”
  • Only 10 percent of registered right-of-center voters — Enterprisers, the most conservative Republicans — had a 2005 profile that would reject Trump utterly.
  • Those Pew defined as “Conservative Democrats” — that is, social and religious conservatives who are the New Deal types, and who almost entirely lean Democratic — comprised in 2005 fifteen percent of the electorate. Pew described them this way: “Older women and blacks make up a sizeable proportion of this group (27% and 30%, respectively). Somewhat less educated and poorer than the nation overall. Allegiance to the Democratic party is quite strong (51% describe themselves as “strong” Democrats) but fully 85% describe themselves as either conservative or moderate ideologically.”
  • The “Partisan Poor” are the most financially disadvantaged of all the typologies, and vote heavily Democratic. A third of them are black, and they favor government services but are skeptical of government, and hostile to business interests. They were at the time 10 percent of registered voters.

So, consider this: A Republican candidate back then that could have pulled just half of the “Conservative Democrats” and half of the “Partisan Poor” would have had a working voting coalition of nearly 60 percent. He could have afforded to have lost some of the Independent and Social Conservatives to a Democrat, and still been in a strong position.

Consider this too: in both the GOP and Democratic cases, the party elites were more aligned with the most extreme on their own sides. Among the Republicans, the strongly pro-business conservatives were only 11 percent of registered voters, and a distinct minority among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters.

But they called the shots.

And they still called the shots after the 2007-08 crash.

Point is, 11 years ago, the basis for a Trump-like candidacy was there. A candidate that was broadly socially conservative, favored government programs but was broadly skeptical of government, and broadly wary of big business: that was where the great center of American politics was.

Nobody could really take advantage of it. The parties were too ideologically rigid, and redistricting favored the most ideologically rigid candidates.

In 2011, Pew had rejiggered its typological categories, and found that surprising numbers of conservatives — even in the hardest core — were a lot more skeptical of Wall Street and its relationship to the economy. 

Then, in 2014, Pew released its first overall typology survey since 2005. Pew found that politics on the Right had come down to a struggle between “Steadfast Conservatives” and “Business Conservatives.” Here’s how the two conflict:

First, Steadfast Conservatives take very conservative views on key social issues like homosexuality and immigration, while Business Conservatives are less conservative – if not actually progressive – on these issues. Nearly three-quarters of Steadfast Conservatives (74%) believe that homosexuality should be discouraged by society. Among Business Conservatives, just 31% think homosexuality should be discouraged; 58% believe it should be accepted.

Business Conservatives have generally positive attitudes toward immigrants and 72% favor a “path to citizenship” for those in the U.S. illegally, if they meet certain conditions. Steadfast Conservatives are more critical of immigrants; 50% support a path to citizenship, the lowest share of any typology group.

Second, just as Steadfast Conservatives are opposed to big government, they also are skeptical of big business. They believe that large corporations have too much power, and nearly half (48%) say the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests. By contrast, as their name suggests, Business Conservatives are far more positive about the free market, and overwhelmingly regard business – and Wall Street – positively.

Finally, these two conservative groups differ over foreign policy. Steadfast Conservatives have doubts about U.S. international engagement – and view free trade agreements as a bad thing for the U.S. – while Business Conservatives are more supportive of the U.S. taking an active role in world affairs and free trade.

The Steadfast Conservatives (15% of the overall electorate) are much more likely than the Business Conservatives (12% overall) to back Trump, it would appear. But if you look further into the typology, you’ll find the single largest group, at 16%, is the Faith and Family Left — basically, pro-government, skeptical of business, but also religiously conservative. (Though I am a social and religious conservative and registered Independent who usually votes GOP, I took the Pew typology quiz, and was assigned to the Faith and Family Left.) It’s easy to see how a Trump figure could peel away some of the Faith and Family Left, as well as two of the middle groups, Young Outsiders and (especially) Hard-Pressed Skeptics.

If you look at the passage above comparing Business Conservatives to Steadfast Conservatives, which of the two sounds more like it’s represented by the Republican Party establishment?

Are you beginning to see where Trump came from?

And are you beginning to see why the gatekeepers on the GOP side — the party insiders, the think tanks, the conservative media — were able to keep any candidate who might have appealed to the middle, against the interests of Business Conservatives, from getting through?

Until along came someone so rich he didn’t have to depend on party donors and insiders to promote his political career. Those voters were there, but there was no way for Republican politicians within the system to speak to them, and for them. (And by the way, the Democrats, by having demonized so many religious and social conservatives, have the same problem.)

Here’s a link to a very important three-part series on Real Clear Politics, written by Sean Trende, on the Trump phenomenon. Excerpts from Part I, on how Trump is a very different kind of Republican, one whose appeal upsets the apple cart:

In fact, Trump’s support has largely been spread across the party, with substantial strength among moderate and liberal Republicans. … So the attempts to attack him for his lack of conservative bona fides have been ineffective because they were largely directed at voters who were not likely to vote for Trump in the first place.

But Part II of Trende’s analysis notes that Trump is also doing well with “downscale, blue-collar whites” who usually vote Democratic. The most interesting part of his essay is Part III, in which he talked about the meaning of the divide between “Cultural Cosmopolitans” and “Traditionalists”. Trende writes:

I think the outcome of this is that neither side is capable of seeing America as it actually is, and both sides believe they are far stronger than they actually are. Cultural traditionalists don’t know many gay marriage supporters (much less anyone who refers to “Caitlin Jenner”), are flummoxed as to how it could have become the law of the land, and are convinced that it must be the result of some giant lawless action. Theirs is a world turned upside down.

Cultural cosmopolitans, on the other hand, forget everything they learned in college about social desirability bias when they view polls rapidly swinging their way (with some notable exceptions), mistakenly see their victories as largely total (people online are always surprised when I point out that a near majority of Americans consider themselves Young Earth Creationists), assume that their discussions about diversity at the Oscars or transgender rights resonate with almost all Americans, and have recently moved to purge an increasing number of opposing views from the bounds of acceptable discourse, again, without a full understanding of just how many people they are silencing.

In fact, I think many cultural cosmopolitans, and again, I largely place myself in these ranks, don’t recognize these beliefs for the purely ideological statements that they are (evolution aside). The cultural cosmopolitans have an advantage in that they occupy the commanding heights of American culture, but the democratization of cyberspace and the freedom that comes with 2,000 channels on television have weakened their influence and have probably only further inflamed tensions between the groups.

Here’s the money graf:

Where this becomes relevant – indeed, I think this is crucial – is that the leadership of the Republican Party and the old conservative movement is, itself, culturally cosmopolitan. I doubt if many top Republican consultants interact with many Young Earth Creationists on a regular basis. Many quietly cheered the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decisions. Most of them live in blue megapolises, most come from middle-class families and attended elite institutions, and a great many of them roll their eyes at the various cultural excesses of “the base.” There is, in other words, a court/country divide among Republicans.

And look:

We’re left with an odd situation in which neither party’s leadership is particularly well attuned to the most important divide in American life. Democrats are openly suspicious, if not hostile, to these voters, while Republicans at best hold their noses on cultural issues if it advantages them (but they will go to the mattresses for unpopular tax cuts for wealthy Americans).

So the Republicans offer up candidates who are from cosmopolitan America, who have their speeches written by speechwriters from cosmopolitan American, who have their images created by consultants from cosmopolitan America, and who develop their issue positions in office buildings located in cosmopolitan America. Then they wonder why the base isn’t excited. Say what you will about George W. Bush, but a large part of why he was successful was that he didn’t talk like your average D.C. denizen. He was routinely mocked by the press and his own party derided his malapropisms, but he connected with a class of voters that Republicans sure could use these days, in a way that Willard Mitt Romney never could hope to (and without resorting to the demagoguery of Trump).

I read this and thought about last night’s GOP debate, and how programmed all those candidates sounded. Nobody sounds like Trump — and Trende says that this is one particular thing that the entire establishment class has missed: the way Trump talks, and why that resonates with people. Look:

Cosmopolitan America sees a strong, moral – frankly ideological – interest in accepting refugees from Syria. Traditionalist America thinks that after Paris, this is insane. Which candidate is unafraid to say this unambiguously, without feeling the need to offer caveats? Traditionalist America thinks that the nation that put a man on the moon can “control its borders”; cosmopolitan America at best offers lip service to the need for doing so. Again, how many of the surviving Republican candidates fully side with the traditionalists? Traditionalist America wants to “kick the tires and light the fires” against ISIS/Daesh, and Trump goes on Blutarsky-ish rants against them. Trump doesn’t do nuance on these issues, but the cosmopolitan Republican candidates feel the need to. (Suggest raising taxes on the wealthy, however, and all nuance goes out the window with the rest of them).

All of this is a lengthy way of saying that Trump is a creation of the Republican establishment, which is frankly uncomfortable with many of its own voters, and which mostly seeks to “manage” them. This is a group that looked at the Tea Party revolts of the past decade, looked at the broad field of Republican candidates (many of whom at least had ties to successful Tea Party revolts), and decided that none of these candidates were good enough.

Read the entire essay. It’s very insightful, and if you click that link, you’ll find embedded links to Parts I and II, though Part III is the best.

Trende calls this a “dangerous” situation, and says the Democrats have similar problems of their own. It’s dangerous because it’s destabilizing, and can easily empower a demagogue like Trump.

What Trump has shown, and is showing every day, is how out of touch Conservatism, Inc., is with the people for whom it purports to speak. They haven’t had a chance to vote for someone like him in a long, long time because, as I’ve said, the GOP and Conservatism, Inc., gatekeepers kept them down. The conservative Christians who have gone to Washington and gotten invited to be in the inner Republican power circles? You think those professional Christians really speak for the people back home anymore?

Me, I’m in a weird and extremely unrepresentative place, politically and ideologically. I am mostly a cosmopolitan in my tastes, but I live by choice in deep Red America, and am a traditionalist by conviction. What Sean Trende says about the Republican and conservative elites living inside a cosmopolitan bubble is true — and the people who give money to the GOP and to the think-tank archipelago are Business Conservatives who, as we now know post-Indiana RFRA, regard we traditionalists are the problem.

It is very useful to get this learned. For that, we can thank Donald Trump.

Look, I believe that Donald Trump is basically a pagan. I believe that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who are his chief rivals now, are sincere, prayerful Christians. But I also am entirely convicted that a President Cruz or a President Rubio would, in the end, do exactly what Big Business wanted, and screw the Christians — not because they have anything against Christians, but because they know who calls the shots in the GOP. Remember what the late David Kuo told us?

This is a culture war, all right, but the battle lines have shifted dramatically. I’ll give the last word to Trende, a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics. Trump may not be the Republican nominee, and he may not be elected president. But business-as-usual with our parties is going to result in an American Caesar. Says Trende:

[I]f the parties don’t remember whom it is they serve, sooner or later that is the direction we will head.




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