2016 election, chattering class, Democrats, Donald Trump, establishment, evangelicals, Glenn Beck, Im-Politic, Immigration, incomes, Jobs, media, middle class, National Review, Populism, Republicans, Trade, working class
It’s Super Tuesday afternoon, and a blow-out night for Donald Trump still seems to be the very best bet. This despite a flood of reporting and commentary containing charges against the Republican presidential front-runner that might be the most disturbing since the Watergate Era.
Like the attacks on former President Richard Nixon, the accusations against Trump could be entirely or largely accurate. They could also be mainly mudslinging. (Some, especially regarding the candidate’s Trump’s frequent abuse of fact, hold entirely too much water.) What’s increasingly beyond dispute is that lots of voters don’t seem to care.
This attitude is increasingly evident on the Republican side, judging from Trump’s steadily rising “ceiling” of GOP support nationally. But it’s also evident when it comes to the entire electorate, where according to the comprehensive survey compilations kept on the RealClearPolitics.com website, Trump loses to both his possible Democratic rivals in most general election surveys, but is pretty competitive. (Judge for yourself whether you put stock in this theory holding that America is full of closet Trump backers too embarrassed by their preference to give honest answers by to pollsters by phone.)
Along with others, I’ve repeatedly written about why (justified) economic gloom and anger among working- and middle-class Americans is the best explainer of Trump-ism – and about how the nation’s intertwined economic, political, and media elites have responded overwhelmingly not by seriously addressing Main Street’s grievances, but by vilifying Trump and even many of his backers. And along with others, I’ve repeatedly written that this disconnect shows both how dangerously remote so many leaders of so many segments of American society have grown from the rest of their countrymen, but how irate the rabble have become at the elites. Democracy can’t possibly prosper with this division.
Nonetheless, the main reason for Trump’s strong and growing support despite the kind of verbal nuclear strike that usually wipes out its target still seems inadequately understood. Sure, there’s a lot of simple class envy at work – though polls consistently show that many low- and middle-income Americans don’t want to deprive the rich of their comforts but simply to gain a shot to join their ranks that’s perceived as fair. Sure, there’s rarely much public love lost for politicians or the media. And sure, American public and private life and speech have all become coarser. (Thanks, pop culture!)
But here’s what else seems to be going on: Growing numbers of Americans are ignoring or tolerating Trump’s historically enormous and conspicuous flaws because they view the elites’ focus on them as a dodge. In other words, they’re increasingly bombarded with coverage of Trump’s business failures and scams and white supremacist backers and hypocrisies and thin skin and crude insults of any number of individuals, groups, and entire genders. And they’ve concluded that these revelations first and foremost demonstrate the determination of the chattering and plutocrat classes to ignore the job and wage losses – and social devastation – resulting from mass immigration policies and offshoring-friendly trade agreements. And so the more such stories appear, whether true or not, the higher Trump’s poll numbers have been rising. In the absence of anything but token acknowledgements that Trump backers aren’t simply – let alone mainly – bigots and know-nothings, each new disclosure fuels public conviction that the establishment’s top priority isn’t easing Main Street’s plight but protecting its favored position.
The same kind of dynamic is at work when it comes to Republican voters’ responses to charges by Republican party mainstays and self-appointed right wing “thought leaders” (like Glenn Beck!) that Trump isn’t a true-blue conservative. Even many evangelicals, who arguably have wasted far too many elections voting their value to the exclusion of their pocketbooks, are finally concluding, along with other Republicans and conservatives still looking in at the country club, that the true-blue agenda hasn’t given them bupkis. That’s largely why they’ve been voting for Trump over former darlings like Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz.
And although their interest in the mainstream conservative media and policy community’s output is pretty limited to begin with, the evangelicals and other Main Street conservatives are undoubtedly deciding that the National Review and right-wing think tank crowd is devoted more to preserving its cushy, plutocrat-funded sinecures than in fostering better jobs and incomes.
Often sports metaphors are useful for expressing political points, and so it’s tempting to urge the elites to “change a losing game” if they really want to stop Trump. But the powers-that-be appear to view this 2016 presidential campaign as a mortal threat, not a game. If they’re right, never will so many have lost so much so much so deservedly.