The secret to Trump’s success

Okay, not “the” secret, I think there’s a lot going on and that Trump’s sui generis, unfiltered, bluster is definitely a big part of his appeal for many.  But I also think, as both Jon Chait and Reihan Salam point out, a big part of the story is the populist ideological space that Trump occupies.  Chait:

By design or (more likely) by accident, Trump has inhabited a ripe ideological niche. Both parties contain ranges of opinions within them. And both are run by elites who have more socially liberal and economically conservative views than their own voters. (There are plenty of anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-same-sex-marriage Democrats not represented by their leaders.) But the tension between base and elite runs deeper in the Republican Party. Conservative leaders tend to care very little about conservative social policy, or even disagree with it altogether. Conservatives care a great deal about cutting the top tax rate, deregulating the financial industry, and, ideally, reducing spending on social insurance — proposals that have virtually no authentic following among the rank and file…

Trump has homed in on a bona fide weakness in the Republican Party structure, one that has fascinated liberal critics in particular. The Republican Party has harnessed one set of passions, and then channeled them into unrelated policy outcomes favored by the party elite. Historically, the passions they have harnessed have revolved around foreign policy — like anti-communism, or the surge in nationalism following 9/11. Some of those passions have revolved around culture — a love of guns, the Pledge of Allegiance, a disdain for politicians who look kind of French, and so on…

So the prospect of a Trump nomination justifiably terrifies Republicans. But unlike the prospect of nominating a Scott Walker — or a more extreme version, like Ted Cruz — the risk does not carry any proportionate reward. Bush, Walker, and Rubio all agree on the same basic domestic goals. If elected, they will try to enact the party’s agenda on taxes, regulation, and social spending.

Trump dissents from the field not just in his political strategy but in his overall orientation. While he shares the Republicans’ disdain for President Obama, he has not committed himself to a Republican program…

Trump poses a dire threat to the party: If elected, he could not be trusted to work for the Republican agenda. The party elite will oppose Trump with everything it has.

And similar points from Salam:

This week, pollster Frank Luntz conducted a focus group of current and former Trump supporters. For over two and a half hours, Luntz probed their reactions to Trump’s past support for abortion rights and stricter gun laws, among other heresies, and he found that none of them seemed to care…

In a recent interview with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, Trump said that he was “fine with affirmative action,” having “lived with it for a long time.” Suffice it to say, conservative opponents of racial preferences were less than pleased. But have Trump’s diehard supporters been abandoning him in droves? They haven’t yet.

In that same Meet the Press interview, Trump warned against corporations that “have no loyalty to this country,” language that brought to mind John Kerry’s campaign against “Benedict Arnold CEOs.” Yes, Trump followed up by saying we ought to cut corporate taxes to keep these companies from fleeing our shores—a stance embraced by most mainstream Republicans—but it’s the vehemence with which Trump attacks CEOs that is noteworthy. It’s very hard to imagine a member of the Bush family using the same language—or a libertarian conservative like Rand Paul for that matter. And while several of Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination have either embraced a flat tax outright or praised the idea in principle, the billionaire real estate developer offered a robust defense of progressive taxation on Fox & Friends. When asked about hedge-fund managers in particular, Trump said without hesitation that “they’re not paying enough tax.” He then implied that well-heeled hedge-funders have been shielded from higher taxes by politicians who depend on their campaign contributions. This is very much in keeping with the way Trump has ridiculed his opponents for being so dependent on wealthy donors.

Short version: there’s some pretty potent latent populism in the Republican Party and Trump has tapped in like hitting a major oil strike.

Oh, and we can’t forget good ol’ white enthocentrism (really surprised Chait didn’t bring that up).  Nice Evan Osnos article in the New Yorker (I’m halfway through in the magazine sitting next to me– you should read it before the New Yorker puts it behind the paywall) about how nutty white supremacists love Trump.  It’s almost return of the Know-Nothings.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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