The roots of ‘Trumpism’


The reason I’d like to see such a poll is that I suspect that both conservative and liberal pundits in the United States are getting the Trump phenomenon wrong. And yes, this is the sort of statement – “hey, the left and the right are both wrong!” – that I usually hate when it comes from other pundits. But in this instance, it’s not a case of knee-jerk centrism, but an informed guess based on some related evidence.

Right now, the conservative explanation, as best as I can figure, is that the party’s base voters are victims of celebrity: What they really want is a true conservative, but they’re being hijacked and hoodwinked by someone who makes good TV.

Meanwhile, the liberal version, as I’ve heard it, seems to be that Mr. Trump is appealing to resentment that ultimately rests on economic failure: Working-class white Americans have been left behind by soaring income inequality, but they mistakenly blame immigrants for taking their jobs.

But are Trumpists really being hoodwinked? Are they members of the suffering working class who don’t understand why they’re hurting? Here’s my guess: They look a lot like Tea Party supporters. And we do know a fair bit about them.

First of all, Tea Party supporters are for the most part not working-class, at least in the ways that group is often defined. They’re relatively affluent, and not especially lacking in college degrees.

So what is distinctive about them?

According to a paper by Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University: “While conservatism is by far the strongest predictor of support for the Tea Party movement, racial hostility also has a significant impact on support.”

So maybe Mr. Trump’s support base consists of angry, fairly affluent white racists – sort of like The Donald himself, only not as rich. And maybe they’re not being hoodwinked.

Now, you might ask why angry racists are busting out of the channels that the G.O.P. constructed in order to direct their rage. Well, we have to take two things into account: the fact that America is becoming more socially and culturally diverse, and the Fox News effect, which has created an angry white guy feedback loop.

Again, until we have a good profile of the typical Trump supporter, this is all just guesswork. But for what it’s worth, I do think that the Trump phenomenon is much more grounded in fundamentals than the commentariat yet grasps.

The Economy Vanishes

There was almost no discussion of the economy in the recent Republican presidential debate, which is weird if you consider the G.O.P.’s self-image. Republicans portray themselves as high priests of economic growth – the people who know how to bring forth prosperity. And remember all the crowing during the last election about how President Obama was bungling the recovery?

But now, not so much. The chart on this page shows private-sector job gains, in thousands, after the end of two recessions – the 2001 recession, and the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

You can argue that the economy should have bounced back more strongly from the deeper slump; on the other hand, the 2008 financial crisis was huge, and such crises tend to leave a bad hangover. Regardless, once the right starts saying that Mr. Obama’s better recovery wasn’t really his doing, it has already lost the argument.

Am I claiming that Mr. Obama caused all that job creation? No – policy was pretty much hamstrung after 2010. But conservatives confidently predicted that Mr. Obama’s policies, especially his “job-killing” health reform law, would, well, kill jobs. This didn’t happen – nor did any of the other predicted Obama disasters.

Recovery should have come much faster, but if President Romney were presiding over this economy, Republicans would be hailing it as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Instead, they’re trying to talk about something else.


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