How to Win Trump Voters
This is a Facebook post I wanted to preserve.
People give Trump supporters a really bad time, all the time, and for good reason- by all measures they appear to be somewhat racist, very anti-modern, xenophobic, and a dozen other mean adjectives that modern high society can’t fathom anyone would still exemplify in 2016. (I share this negative view of Trump supporters, by the way- I’m a conservative Yankee and I am by no means apologizing for these guys.)
But guess what? Jacksonian America makes up a good 30-40% of the U.S. population, and isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s not even dying off fast enough for rising Latino and Asian populations to counterbalance it electorally. For the next few decades and probably longer, o East Coast high society, you’ll have to deal with Jacksonians as a major force in American politics, and guess what? THEY’RE AMERICANS TOO.
Moreover- they’ve been the central core of every successful electoral coalition since the days of Abraham Lincoln, when Jacksonian support in the upper South tilted the balance against the slaveholder oligarchs. Jacksonians rallied to McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt because they SPOKE to them and fought for their interests; Franklin Roosevelt secured them in the New Deal’s transfer payments system, and they stayed in the Democratic coalition through Truman, Kennedy, and LBJ; they turned to Nixon and Reagan when Republicans promised to keep the old entitlements and counter the activist excesses of the student counterculture that had taken over the Democratic Party.
Nowadays, they’re in neither party. The cultural liberalism of the Democrats disgusts them, and the economic elitism of the Republicans holds no sway over their hearts and bellies. So they’re a people- a demographically and culturally POWERFUL people- lost in the electoral wilderness with no institutionalized representation in Washington. Of course they turn to someone as coarse and vulgar as Donald Trump, and of course they exert untold influence over the election.
So here’s the thing. You want to build a new electoral coalition (and both parties need to- the Obama Coalition of minorities-women-unions is too small, and the Republican coalition of Evangelicals and financiers is unstable) you NEED to appeal to Jacksonian America and get them on your side. You need to. Demographically they’re the core of America, like it or not (and I don’t particularly like it.)
What does that mean for messaging?
1) Don’t be socially liberal. You don’t have to be socially conservative, because Jacksonians aren’t single-issue voters; but neither will you succeed as a campus activist. Jacksonians like people who are culturally conservative and nominally Christian, who don’t talk down to them and tell them their beliefs are backwards and wrong. Otherwise they don’t require pandering (which has backfired on the socially conservative GOP establishment.)
2) Do be economically populist. These guys hate Wall Street supply-side economics almost as much as they hate socialism. They have no problem with “big government” if it’s big government in their interests- ie, Social Security and Medicare, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency or Department of Education. They like pro-industry, pro-export, immigration-restriction policies. They don’t like bailouts, tax cuts for the rich, and anti-poverty programs.
3) Do be politically nationalist. These guys believe they’re “the real America” and they do have something of a point- they send their sons to war in higher numbers than any other cultural or demographic subgroup in the United States. They have no tolerance for internationalists chiding them about human rights or free trade or neocons agitating for democracy-building; nor do they like isolationists who tell them America is weak or America is an evil empire.
This isn’t to say every future political entrepreneur ought to bill himself or herself as a Neo-Trump (that would be terrifying.) But there are tectonic forces at work underneath the American political system, and the biggest story of 2016 is this- Jacksonian America has woken up and revolted against its masters, and is looking for a new patron.
I say, let’s give them one- let’s build a new political coalition that includes rather than excludes Jacksonian America, speaking to them on cultural terms and appealing to them in economic policy. This need not be a xenophobic and racist coalition, particularly once passions die down after 2016, but it will have to be at the very least a socially-moderate coalition that doesn’t put social issues at the forefront. Heck, you might even be able to get Latinos and inner-city blacks in the fold if you craft the right sort of pro-industry economic policy(and those populations tend to be culturally conservative, as well.) There have been stranger coalitions- for example, Lincoln’s marriage of slaveholding Marylanders and New England abolitionists, or FDR’s pairing of Klansmen from Kentucky and Socialists from the Vermont.
But what’s actually going to happen for the time being?
More of the same, really- conservatives will double down on supply side economics, and liberals will double down on social activism. They’ll both say they’re thinking with Jacksonian America’s interests at heart, but they’ll keep butting their heads against walls, and Donald Trump’s delegate counts and polls will spiral upward until he’s President of the United States. (I’m predicting that because I don’t want it to happen- and when intellectuals like me make predictions, they’re usually wrong. Fingers crossed.)
So National Review and Vox, keep hitting Trump supporters from Right and Left, keep doing your work. You’ll just piss them off more, and convince them there’s a bipartisan cabal against their interests in Washington and New York.
People who want to craft the next Republic of the United States, on the other hand- here’s your opportunity. 40% of the vote favoring an activist government? Stop wasting your time and figure out how to court that. It’s scary and it’s not going to happen now, but- sometimes you’ve gotta ride the tiger and stop fighting it, because the tiger’s going to win. You can guide it, you can smooth around its edges, you can make it a less prickly and more inclusive tiger- but you can’t oppose it.
Trump is a prophet. God I hope he doesn’t become the next President of the United States. But if we don’t produce new leaders who can figure out how to please his voters and lead them towards a New Deal for America, away from the siren calls of xenophobia and revolution, then perhaps we deserve to have a demagogue like him as President.
I can see heads exploding and de-friendings coming. Just know that this is by no means an endorsement of Donald Trump for President of the United States.