Donald Trump and Economic Insecurity

Yesterday’s Nevada results continue to reflect the running theme of Trump’s candidacy:

While Rubio dances around the electorate’s resentments, Trump revels in them. On primary night in South Carolina, he tapped into their nationalism as he whacked at Mexico and China. “They’ve taken our [sic] jobs, they’ve taken our money, they’ve taken our everything,” he declared.

In this context, I think the term “nationalism” is unfairly pejorative. He’s getting at their economic insecurity. If one believes that at the end of the day, the only thing people really care about is whether they can provide for themselves and their families, and have the same expectations for their kids, then this is everything. Maybe you’re a very religious person, but you’ve also lost a job recently and only been able to replace it with temp work. Ted Cruz is selling the same old supply-side bullshit, which just redistributes more wealth to rich. But Trump is talking about slapping tariffs on Chinese imports. For whom do you vote? It seems like a no-brainer.

In each state so far, Trump has finished stronger among blue-collar voters than white-collar ones. And in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, exit polls show Trump’s support dropped with each additional education level a voter attained. Among non-college graduates, he topped 40 percent in the latter two states and scored a majority in Nevada.

“Whether someone has a college degree or not has become a major fault line in American politics these days,” noted Bolger.

As has been discussed many times before, that’s Trump support in a nut. Usually with “fringe” candidates (can that term be used to describe the Republican front-runner?), mainstream candidates co-op parts of their message to undermine their support. That hasn’t happened with Trump, which in some ways illustrates his point that the system is rigged against the little guy.

Two Views of Donald Trump

After Trump’s victory in the New Hampshire primary last week, I read two articles that are simultaneously very different and very accurate.

The first, by Ezra Klein. He goes after Trump for his obvious racism, demagoguery, and thuggishness:

Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he’s a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he’s also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.

Trump is in serious contention to win the Republican presidential nomination. His triumph in a general election is unlikely, but it is far from impossible. He’s not a joke and he’s not a clown. He’s a man who could soon be making decisions of war and peace, who would decide which regulations are enforced and which are lifted, who would be responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices and representing America in the community of nations. This is not political entertainment. This is politics.

This line of attack is obvious, but it’s also very important, and not spoken enough. Too many of the chattering class talk around what they know Trump really is but avoid calling him out directly. Or they only focus on the horse race itself, debating how the latest outrage will affect the polls, rather than the outrage itself.

The second article is more interesting. It’s an article by David Frum that hits at the why behind Trump’s victory.

On the Republican side, the upset was, if possible, even more stunning. For 20 years and more, Republican presidential contests have operated as a policy cartel. Concerns that animate actual Republican voters—declining middle-class wages, immigration, retirement security—have been tacitly ruled out of bounds. Concerns that excite Republican donors—tax cuts, entitlement reforms—have been more-or-less unanimously accepted by all plausible candidates. Candidates competed on their life stories, on their networks of friends, and on their degree of religious commitment—but none who aspired to run a national campaign deviated much from the economic platform of the Wall Street Journal and the Club for Growth.

This year’s Republican contest, however, has proved a case study of Sigmund Freud’s “return of the repressed.” Republicans, it turns out, also worry about losing health care. They also want to preserve Social Security and Medicare in roughly their present form. They believe that immigration has costs, and that those costs are paid by people like them—even as its benefits flow to employers, investors, and foreigners. They know that their personal situation is deteriorating, and they interpret that to mean (as who wouldn’t?) that the country is declining, too. “Hope,” “growth,” “opportunity,” “choice”—those have long since dwindled to sinister euphemisms for “less,” “worse,” and “not for you.”

I truly don’t know how the Republican primary will turn out. Not long ago, I didn’t think Trump would win a single state, despite his poll numbers. Now we’re in a spot where if Trump can win South Carolina, it becomes much more difficult to see how he doesn’t go on to win it all.

Both views of Trump expressed above are serious stuff. It’s important to confront demagogues when they appear, but it’s also important that “meainstream” politicians stop ignoring the decline of middle class living standards and start addressing them head on.