Analysts have been getting things wrong about Donald Trump for months now. First, they insisted he wouldn’t run. Then they insisted he wouldn’t be able to appeal to primary voters. Then they insisted he wouldn’t continue to do well after saying really stupid and offensive things. Wrong wrong wrong.
Now, the conventional wisdom is this is all about “sticking it to the establishment” of the Republican Party. It’s all a message from those conservative base voters in fly over country who get treated poorly by the coastal elites. Well I think this analysis is wrong yet again.
Quinnipiac University came out with a poll earlier today that breaks down support for candidates by self-described ideology.
Trump actually did slightly better (granted it could be sampling error) among moderates/liberals, and people who are “somewhat” conservative than people who are “very” conservative, evangelical, and tea party. Those last three categories are the types of people I think of when I hear about GOP “base” voters that are mad at the “establishment.”
So saying this is about getting back at RINOs or mushy moderates misses the point. Trump would be doing well primarily with the aforementioned base groups if that were the case. Instead, he does well with everyone in the polls. His popularity isn’t about getting back at the establishment for their moderate or non-conservative stances, otherwise moderates wouldn’t like him, like how there’s not a single moderate/libeal who is behind Cruz in the above poll. It’s actually a mix of other things.
Firstly, no thinking conservative would pick Trump because of his conservatism. Because Trump isn’t one. He is actually a populist.
How do we know this? Trump has taken the following positions in just the past month or so. Put aside his prior decades of leftism. This is current, campaign Trump:
- Supports D.C. statehood
- Supports affirmative action
- Opposes cutting off planned parenthood
- Opposes reforming Social Security and Medicare to save this country from a fiscal Armageddon
- Praises single payer
- Questions our commitment to South Korea, which is about saving millions of people from horrific communist oppression
- Advocates tariffs, which is a tax paid by consumers and violates the conservative/libertarian commitment to trade and free markets. It also has a track record of total disaster.
- Advocates increasing taxes on investments
- Refuses to commit to undoing the Iran nuclear deal
- Shows a lack of knowledge regarding the Bible
Any of these – any one of them – would be a potential pitfall for the other candidates in the race that would cut off some of their support from the grassroots. Bush, for example, is chastised for holding a couple unconservative stances. But he is nothing like the Donald. Bush is Buckely compared to Donald.
If you support Trump it isn’t because you are a conservative, intellectually or ideologically. You aren’t someone who reads the National Review, listens to Dennis Prager, or has the latest Jonah Goldberg or Thomas Sowell book on pre-order. Your support for Trump comes from your susceptibility to populist politics. You don’t hate establishment Republicans, rather you hate politicians in general, the media (both liberal and conservative, see their hatred of Fox News and other right leaning outlets that dare be critical of Trump) and it’s all because you feel you aren’t getting yours and Trump is your savior.
Which, in all fairness, is an understandable position. Americans in both parties are open to populist appeals because there’s a lot to be mad about. But the big takeaway is that these Trump supporters really aren’t the same people on the political right who have been taking the time to learn about the intricacies of Obamacare, or learning what budget items need to be cut to balance the budget. In other words, they aren’t policy people. They are personality people. They like Trump for Trump, not because they are upset with the establishment’s lack of commitment to conservative policies.
Second, Trump isn’t tapping into people’s “anger”. He is tapping into something worse, which is often related to anger, but many pundits are too scared to bring up. It’s a strain of ideology & culture found in every country, and when it gets out of control it does tremendous damage. Nationalism. And yes, the pointy-headed leftists are wrong to conflate this with racism. They aren’t the same thing.
If you support deporting people from different countries (and stopping legal immigration even), want more entitlement spending for Americans, and want to protect American industries from foreign competition (even though nearly every economist under the sun tells you that is super duper stupid) you are a nationalist. Not a conservative. Not a libertarian. Not a liberty lover. Not an individualist. A nationalist.
You are partially left wing (by the modern American spectrum) in the sense that you want America to rise and fall as a collective. You reject letting people move their property out of the country. You reject letting people rise and fall on their own and are okay with expanding the welfare state, as Trump wants to do. You reject the notion that other human beings can enter the country, even legally, and contribute great things to America.
Trump pays lip service to these things. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and everyone in between do not, which is why they aren’t resonating with this crowd of people.
Classical liberals like myself, and nationalists broadly defined, haven’t always gotten along before. For some complicated set of circumstances we’ve ended up largely in the same political party in contemporary America. Previously, nationalists broke off and started their own third parties, all of which ended in failure. For the sake of the country I hope that doesn’t happen again with Trump. If Trump is the next Teddy Roosevelt, and he delivers the Presidency to a leftist, it may be a blow America cannot recover from for some time.