Trump as a Rationalist
Who is voting for Donald Trump?
This is an oft asked question, yet no matter how many times it is attempted to be answered, the explanations seem to fall short. In the Florida primary, Trump won 45.7% of the vote. Who are all these people? To the city conservative, this remains unfathomable. Not just hard to fathom—unfathomable.
When I try to imagine who supports Trump, I try to think of what the base looks like. Despite being a far to the cosmopolitan end of conservatism, I occasionally read the conservatives who seem to really speak to the conservative base. I think of someone like Matt Walsh of The Blaze, who occasionally interests me, but really writes to an evangelical audience with whom I have no connection. So when I think of a conservative populist uprising, I think of it coming from Mr. Walsh’s people. But Mr. Walsh hates Donald Trump. In fact, it is not just Mr. Walsh. Even Glenn Beck cannot bring himself to support Trump. In the National Review’s valiant but failed Against Trump issue, Conservatives from every corner of the incredibly intellectual diverse Big Tent took turns bashing the Donald. But none of it stuck. So I ask again, who supports Trump?
A few weeks ago news outlets began poking fun at the fact that Trump prefers his meat well done, as they have done on so many other qualities from his hair to the way he speaks. Because really, who does like their meat well done? Don’t we all prefer a medium rare steak, or maybe a medium burger? But then Wonkblog decided to actually check the numbers. Apparently, a plurality of Americans, 36%, take their burgers well done. When this number is examined, we see that these people typically have only a high school diploma and make under $30,000 a year. It turns out that instead of showing a bizarre quirk of Trump, the media is falling victim again to its own snobbery and elitism. They are, in effect, ignoring a rational view of the makeup of this country in favor of their own non-representative view. Strangely enough, burger preferences are proving to be oddly representative of the entire failure to forecast the Donald Debacle.
When the Tea Party emerged in 2009, it was perfectly consistent with one’s expectations for a conservative populism. The Tea Party took a hard line on social issues, and emphasized true conservatism. While xenophobia and racism was hardly foreign to the Tea Party, those elements took a back seat to religious fervor, anti-Obamacare sentiments, and a belief in small government. A quintessential example of a Tea Party insurgency of that of David Brat, who infamously usurped Eric Cantor’s seat. David Brat was supported by local Tea Party groups, and ran on a platform of essentially “more conservative than thou.” He portrayed himself as a very principled economic libertarian and religious conservative, compared to Cantor being an alleged RINO. While the upset in the congressional primary was surprising, the story makes perfect sense. Brat proved to have a more rational understanding of the potential voters than Cantor.
In this Republican primary, there are now three candidates. Kasich seems to be attracting the typical conservative. He, as an accomplished legislator and the governor of a swing state, is the most obvious of the current Republican candidates (considering Romney was the most recent nominee and the seeming strength of the Party Decides Hypothesis). The rise of Cruz may seem slightly surprising, but it really isn’t in light of the popularity of the Tea Party. Cruz is the typical conservative insurgent. He has had no problem standing up to the Obama Administration. He has a strong conservative record on virtually every issue. He is a Southern Baptist. No one should be sincerely surprised by his popularity. The surprising thing is that Cruz and Kasich are losing.
See Trump. How does a Trump insurgency make sense? He can claim none of the Conservative bona fides that someone like Cruz has and that the Tea Party demanded. Trump has a long record of funding Democratic politicians. He went so far as to support Planned Parenthood during a debate. Who can do that? As the inconsistency of Trump’s positions can only rival that of Hillary Clinton, it seems that there are only two clearly identifiable qualities about his campaign: authoritarianism and xenophobia. This is evidenced by the fact that there are only two stances he has been clear about, the building of a wall on the southern border and a freeze on Muslims coming to America. Has there really been a silent majority of Republicans (and of course the oft-forgotten Democrats and independents supporting Trump) who are politically satisfied by this platform?
Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics points out that it looks increasingly clear that GOP elites have been lying to themselves as to whom exactly their base is. They might think they understand it, but this understanding proves only superficial. And our understanding, we living in coastal cities, probably don’t fare much better. Did you know that only 72% of Americans over the age of 25 do not have a four year college degree or higher? Does that statistic even make sense to you? I know I can barely believe it. I know of my graduating class of 200, perhaps five didn’t go to college immediately. How many deviations is that away from the national figure? In Mr. Trende’s article, he quotes an excellent Scott Alexander piece (which everyone should read), pointing out that 46% of Americans are creationists. Mr. Alexander goes on to write that in his social circle of approximately 150 people, not one is a creationist. He goes on, “Odds of this happening by chance? 1/2^150 = 1/10^45 = approximately the chance of picking a particular atom if you are randomly selecting among all the atoms on Earth.” So it’s not just that many of us are in a bubble. It is that we have no idea of the nature and severity of the bubble that we are in. While conservative elites might have been vaguely familiar with these statistics, it was Trump who exploited them. Thus, the man, who to many seem crazy, has actually bested the Republican establishment in rationality, in that his understanding of the country matched reality much better than the Republican elite. It was back in 1999 that Mr. Trump said to Larry King:
“I think that nobody is really hitting it right. The Democrats are too far left. I mean, Bill Bradley, this is seriously left; he's trying to come a little more center, but he's seriously left. The Republicans are too far right. And I don't think anybody's hitting the cord, not the cord that I want hear, and not the cord that other people want to hear, and I've seen it.”
Here, even 17 years ago, Trump is identifying a truth about the electorate that no one seems to have really taken to heart. In light of this, it is almost shocking that we didn’t see Trump earlier. If some version of efficient market theory holds true in electoral politics, the fact that there has been such a substantial body of untapped voters is astounding.
The scariest thing about Trump is, even if a miracle occurs, even if Cruz or Kasich take the lead, even if there is a brokered convention and an actual conservative takes the nomination, even if Trump suddenly dies from all of his well done steaks, Trumpism doesn’t go away. Any sort of Mccarthy-esque “Have you no shame” moment seems ineffective. Now we live in a world where American Authoritarianism is out of the bottle, and now it is only more dangerous to pretend it's not there.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr