The Trump campaign is more than just a KKK rally, and the Dems need to figure it out fast

2016 is a watershed moment. If November features Clinton vs Trump, the Republicans win regardless of how the election turns out.

Donald Trump

It’s the economy, stupid.

Big thanks to our friend Rich James for passing along this analysis in today’s Atlantic. (Pardon the longish snip here – it’s important.)

But on issue after issue, Trump vows to use government as a tool to improve the lot of his supporters, and address their anxieties. He’d interfere in free markets, imposing tariffs to punish companies that move factories offshore, and countries with abusive trade practices. He’s pledged to preserve Social Security. He’s proposed, at various times, registering Muslims and banning them from entering the country.

There’s a common theme dividing the government initiatives Trump supports from the ones he opposes.

He’s speaking to his core supporters: working-class whites who identify not by ethnicity, but simply as American. And he’s promising to defend their interests. He’ll protect their jobs from spotted owls and immigrants and offshoring; he’ll keep them safe by keeping terrorists abroad, and troops at home; he’ll buffer them against shifting economic fortunes with robust social-insurance programs.

These are Trump’s voters. Some once were Democrats, but left the party for Nixon in 1972, or for Reagan in 1980—in search of a leader who would put the interests of the white working classes first. For decades, both their legitimate grievances and their racial resentments found outlet in the Republican program of smaller government. But it’s always been, at best, an alliance of convenience, and not just on obvious flashpoints like immigration. Libertarians and business conservatives share little of their affection for robust social-insurance programs, and none of their hostility to free trade.

Now, Trump promises to unite the two halves of their agenda—attacking government programs that threaten the interests of the white working class, as conservative Republicans have long promised, but also vigorously expanding those that favor them, as liberal Democrats have advocated. Even in the remarkably crowded Republican field that began this race, there was no candidate with a program remotely like his. His rivals kept trying to stop him by proving that he’s not a true conservative, just a big-government liberal in disguise. Their attacks, though, only strengthened Trump’s hand: His supporters didn’t want a true conservative—they wanted a champion. And they appear delighted that someone is promising to use government to address their resentments, and serve their interests.

There’s no arguing or excusing the appalling racism of the Trump campaign. That said, there’s more going on here than a garden-variety Klan rally. Trump is calling for big government. Yuuuuge government. This is about as Republican as affirmative action and vouchers for free government abortions.

And his supporters are eating it up.

In sum: the GOP mantra of the past 40+ years – “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” – has been weighed. It has been measured. And it has been found wanting. The Republican Party, as constituted since at least 1980, is done.

Thing is, so is the GOP-Lite Democratic Party as constituted since 1992. The practical reality of the 2016 campaign is that, as of this moment, there are three candidates left with a shot (or maybe two and a half depending on how you read Bernie and what Michigan means), and of the three Clinton is easily the most “Republican” of the three on economic issues.

2016 is a watershed moment. The GOP and Democratic parties will continue to dominate American politics likely until the end of time, but not these versions of the GOP and Democratic parties. Whichever manages to understand the new calculus of working class rage – and here I strongly recommend you have a look at the piece on labor that Frank offered up yesterday – is going to have a … yuge … advantage in the coming years.

If November hands us a choice between Clinton and Trump, the Republicans win regardless of how the election turns out.

One comment

  • “The Republican Party, as constituted since at least 1980, is done.” Wow. I had not really thought of it like that, but I think you may be right.

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