The secret to Trump’s success: the GOP is the party of white identity and white grievances

I took apart this falsehood, GOP leaders: No place for bigotry in the Republican Party, in yesterday’s post. ‘Super Tuesday’ – the Republican race. It bears repeating:

Donald-Trump-CartoonThis idea that Donald Trump is engaged in a “hostile takeover” of the GOP or has hijacked the party is ludicrous. Trump is winning over a key voter constituency that the GOP has methodically nurtured for decades and fed their fears and prejudices with the conservative media entertainment complex. Trump is just a symptom of the disease. The disease of racism and bigotry has been festering in the GOP’s soul for decades. The day of reckoning has been a long time coming.

Andrew Rosenthal writes at the New York Times, The Myth of Trump-Hating Republicans:

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, said that if “a person” wants to be the G.O.P. nominee, “they must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices.”

Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, talked about “one of our presidential candidates and his seeming ambivalence about David Duke and the K.K.K.”

“I condemn his comments in a most forceful way,” said Mr. McConnell, speaking in an unforceful way.

The comments by Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell had two things in common.

First they misrepresented (I think deliberately) the position of the Republican Party on issues like racism and the politics of division. O.K., maybe an actual former K.K.K. grand wizard is a bit much, but both racism and divisiveness have been at the heart of the G.O.P.’s governing and electoral strategy for many, many decades. George H.W. Bush won the presidency in 1988 with a campaign designed around appealing to racism and fear. Mr. McConnell was fine with Confederate flags flying from government houses in the South until the political pressure to take them down became too intense. The Republicans don’t have a “seeming ambivalence” about this. Some are more than seemingly ambivalent, and some are ready and willing to embrace the forces of racism when expedient. Only a tiny handful truly distance themselves from those dark forces in American politics.

Second, neither Mr. McConnell nor Mr. Ryan actually used the word “Trump.” Mr. Trump is not, fundamentally, objectionable to them.

Mr. Ryan has made it clear that he will support Mr. Trump if he wins the nomination. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has already done so, to his enduring shame. And the rest of the Republicans will follow suit if Mr. Trump gets a lock on the Republican delegates. It may take a day or two, and Mr. Trump might have to do lunch with people like Mr. McConnell, but they will be lining up to declare their unity soon enough.

Republicans (like those he is beating in the primaries) may find Mr. Trump annoying, and they may find his unvarnished xenophobia, racism and jingoism unnerving as a tactical matter.

But the Republican Party long ago doubled down on its movement to the far right, way beyond the American political center and way beyond any kind of real conservatism. It is a party of white people that protects its richest members and feeds off the anxiety of its poorest members by directing their anger at minorities, immigrants and women.

Marco Rubio is not more “moderate” than Mr. Trump, except in unimportant details. Ted Cruz is farther to the wacky right. The only Republican candidate within hailing distance of the American political center is Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who is a conservative but not an evident racist or xenophobe or Tea Party supplicant. And he is on the verge of being driven out of the campaign.

There is no chasm in the Republican Party, unless you count the widening one between Mr. Trump and his competitors when it comes to winning delegates.

The Washington Post has this report from political scientists John Sides and Michael Tessler, How political science helps explain the rise of Trump: the role of white identity and grievances:

This post describes the research underlying another key aspect of Trump’s appeal: the grievances of some white Americans and their hostility to minority groups.

Along with demonstrating that most Americans do not organize their political opinions based on ideology, Phillip Converse’s field-defining 1964 essay argued that Americans do organize their opinions around something else: attitudes toward social groups.

Fifty years of research backs this up.  Ethnocentric suspicions of minority groups in general, and attitudes about blacks in particular, influence whites’ opinions about many issues.

Their influence on mass politics became stronger in the 1960s and 1970s. As the Democratic and Republican parties took divergent stands on civil rights, attitudes toward blacks became a powerful predictor of which party Americans identified with. Attitudes about African-Americans are a major reason why the once solidly Democratic South has become a Republican stronghold.

Barack Obama’s presidency has made attitudes about race matter even more. There is now an enormous gulf between Democrats and Republicans in how they react to race-related events, such as the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray. Democrats and Republicans were even divided over Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime show, with Republicans nearly 50 points more likely than Democrats to disapprove of her tribute to the Black Panthers.

Vanderbilt political scientists Marc Hetherington and Drew Engelhardt showed last week just how much more racially conservative Republicans have become in recent years. They concluded from those findings that “it is not surprising that a candidate (Trump) who is well known for questioning President Obama’s citizenship…and said that black youths have ‘never done more poorly’ because ‘there’s no spirit’ would be attractive to a party that these days is dripping with racial resentment.”

Nor is it surprising that a candidate like Trump who has made a number of insensitive statements about minority groups performs best among Republicans who score highest in white ethnocentrism, anti-immigrant attitudes, racial resentment, fear of Muslims, and racial and ethnic intolerance. Appeals to racial and ethnic anxieties have often succeeded in activating support for racially conservative politicians.

But Trump is not only tapping into negative attitudes about minority groups. Many have suggested that Trump is appealing to white nationalistic fears of an increasingly non-white America. His candidacy, they point out, has garnered support from people like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who told his followers last week that voting against Trump “is really treason to your heritage.”

Newly released data from the American National Election Study’s 2016 Pilot Study show that both white racial identity and beliefs that whites are treated unfairly are powerful predictors of support for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries:

WhiteIdentity

These graphs show that white independents and Republicans who think their identity as whites is extremely important are more than 30 points more likely to support Trump than those who think their racial identity is not important.

Likewise, white Americans who perceive a great deal of discrimination against their race are almost 40 points more likely to support Trump than those who don’t think whites face any discrimination.

And whites who think it’s extremely likely that “many whites are unable to find a job because employers are hiring minorities instead” are over 50 points more likely to support Trump than those who think it’s unlikely that many whites are losing jobs to minorities.

These findings are consistent with the important research of Duke political scientist Ashley Jardina, who wrote some of the survey questions used above. Her research shows that white identity more strongly affects opinions when whites perceive themselves as under threat. This foreshadows a rising white identity politics as the United States becomes a majority-minority nation.

In sum, Trump’s “us against them” campaign resonates in an American political environment that has long been centered on social groups and has grown even more so in the Obama era. Both white identity and hostility toward minority groups are propelling Trump — perhaps even to the nomination.

Donald Trump made the strategic decision to disregard the RNC’s 2012 election “autopsy” report from its Growth and Opportunity Project, which called on the party to be more inclusive towards minorities, especially Latinos, which the RNC said was critical to the future growth of the GOP.

Trump instead has doubled-down on Sean Trende’s thesis of  The Case of the Missing White Voters: that a large portion of the demographic change we saw in the 2012 electorate was not due to increased turnout, but rather a drop in white voter participation. Trende followed up his original story with a second piece in 2013 that suggested these voters were mostly lower-income, blue-collar voters who lived in areas that had also voted for Ross Perot. If the GOP could find a candidate to motivate these voters sufficiently, it could narrow the gap between them and Democrats and offset some of the losses Republicans could suffer due to demographic shifts.

In other words, whites are still the majority in America, and if Donald Trump and his authoritarian crypto-fascist white supporters can take control of the government, they will “Make America Great White Again” and put those minorities back in their place.

Amanda Taub at Vox.com reports on The rise of American authoritarianism:

[I]t wasn’t just Donald Trump but his supporters who seemed to have come out of nowhere, suddenly expressing, in large numbers, ideas far more extreme than anything that has risen to such popularity in recent memory. In South Carolina, a CBS News exit poll found that 75 percent of Republican voters supported banning Muslims from the United States. A PPP poll found that a third of Trump voters support banning gays and lesbians from the country. Twenty percent said Lincoln shouldn’t have freed the slaves.

Last September, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst named Matthew MacWilliams realized that his dissertation research might hold the answer to not just one but all three of these mysteries.

MacWilliams studies authoritarianism — not actual dictators, but rather a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.

So MacWilliams naturally wondered if authoritarianism might correlate with support for Trump.

He polled a large sample of likely voters, looking for correlations between support for Trump and views that align with authoritarianism. What he found was astonishing: Not only did authoritarianism correlate, but it seemed to predict support for Trump more reliably than virtually any other indicator. He later repeated the same poll in South Carolina, shortly before the primary there, and found the same results, which he published in Vox:

Trump_poll2.0.0

As it turns out, MacWilliams wasn’t the only one to have this realization. Miles away, in an office at Vanderbilt University, a professor named Marc Hetherington was having his own aha moment. He realized that he and a fellow political scientist, the University of North Carolina’s Jonathan Weiler, had essentially predicted Trump’s rise back in 2009, when they discovered something that would turn out to be far more significant than they then realized.

That year, Hetherington and Weiler published a book about the effects of authoritarianism on American politics. Through a series of experiments and careful data analysis, they had come to a surprising conclusion: Much of the polarization dividing American politics was fueled not just by gerrymandering or money in politics or the other oft-cited variables, but by an unnoticed but surprisingly large electoral group — authoritarians.

Their book concluded that the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies.

This trend had been accelerated in recent years by demographic and economic changes such as immigration, which “activated” authoritarian tendencies, leading many Americans to seek out a strongman leader who would preserve a status quo they feel is under threat and impose order on a world they perceive as increasingly alien.

These Americans with authoritarian views, they found, were sorting into the GOP, driving polarization. But they were also creating a divide within the party, at first latent, between traditional Republican voters and this group whose views were simultaneously less orthodox and, often, more extreme.

Over time, Hetherington and Weiler had predicted, that sorting would become more and more pronounced. And so it was all but inevitable that, eventually, authoritarians would gain enough power within the GOP to make themselves heard.

At the time, even Hetherington and Weiler did not realize the explosive implications: that their theory, when followed to its natural conclusion, predicted a looming and dramatic transformation of American politics.

Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force. They would thus seek a candidate who promised these things. And the extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms.

A candidate like Donald Trump.

* * *

Shortly after the Iowa Republican caucus, in which Trump came in a close second, Vox partnered with the Washington-based media and polling company Morning Consult to test American authoritarians along a range of political and social views — and to test some hypotheses we had developed after speaking with the leading political scientists of the field.

What we found is a phenomenon that explains, with remarkable clarity, the rise of Donald Trump — but that is also much larger than him, shedding new light on some of the biggest political stories of the past decade. Trump, it turns out, is just the symptom. The rise of American authoritarianism is transforming the Republican Party and the dynamics of national politics, with profound consequences likely to extend well beyond this election.

There is much more to this lengthy report, which you should read for your edification.

Trump is just a symptom of the disease. The disease of racism and bigotry has been festering in the GOP’s soul for decades. The day of reckoning has been a long time coming. Fighting the rise of authoritarianism and fascism in the GOP is the defining issue of this 2016 election. Losing this fight means the end of the American experiment and our constitutional democracy. It will signal our descent into darkness.

3 Responses to The secret to Trump’s success: the GOP is the party of white identity and white grievances

  1. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, Goldman Sachs speeches on TPP: Article, Sunday, March 6, 2016: “Investment bank Goldman Sachs predicts that Vietnam’s economy, now the 55th largest in the world, will surge to No. 17 by 2025, with a gross domestic product of $450 billion, up from $186 billion currently…

    Intel helped start a program to improve university-level engineering programs at Vietnamese institutions. And the company has sent 73 of its Vietnamese workers to study for two years at Portland State University in Oregon.”

    http://www.latimes.com/busines

    Basically, if Intel is ready to pay for two years of community college for 73 Vietnamese workers for training, they could do that for Americans. The “Gold Standard” should be ‘do it here and do it there’. Perhaps this why she changed her mind, but if investments include training Americans equally as foreigners, this fair trade agreement would be good for America.

    Why would she release her speeches before she is the nominee?

  2. captain*arizona

    Underestimating your opponent is never a good idea. Trump supporters are social conservative populists invited into republican party for their votes to keep the rich peoples taxes low(nixons southern strategy) who for the first time have a populist to vote for instead of the usual ayn randist free trade movement conservatives foisted on them by the donor class who thinks its great their jobs are sent out of the country and support immigration so the ignorant southern white trash can compete against immigrants for minimum wage part time jobs. Remember clinton the free trader(that is why goldman sachs paid her the big bucks $$$ for speeches) only came out against the t.p.p. when unions threatened to support bernie.

  3. The Onion’s November 7, 2012 post about the early frontrunner in the GOP primary campaign for 2016 is particularly poignant… and prescient.

    Google “The Onion November 7, 2012 GOP 2016 frontrunner.”