viernes, 10 de febrero de 2017

The Two Kinds of Trump Voters


Broadly speaking, the president's white working class supporters come in two types. Democrats have a shot at one of them.

It’s the hottest question in Washington: Will white working-class voters still support President Donald Trump in four years if he can’t deliver on his campaign promises?

Republicans want to know whether they can keep these voters while deep-sixing Trump’s protectionist and Big Government ideas; Democrats, for their part, are asking whether it is worth courting white working-class support at all. If these perplexing voters have crossed the aisle for good, then Democrats can consolidate their support from minorities and urban cosmopolitans and seek to broaden their appeal to centrists wary of Trump’s instability and radicalism.

But before Democrats decide whether or not to abandon white working-class voters altogether, here’s something they need to keep in mind: Trump’s base is not a monolith. In fact, among the white-working class people I studied for three months in Youngstown, Ohio—which witnessed a 20-point swing from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016—two distinct groups emerged.

First, there are those who support Trump primarily because they agree with the authoritarian, nationalist moral order he seeks to establish. We’ll call them the Nationalists. Second, there are those who support Trump primarily because they believe he embodies a cleansing of establishment politics that has left white working-class people poorer and forgotten over recent decades. We’ll call them the Exasperated.

The Democrats might never hope to gain the support of Nationalists, for whom Trump is a messianic figure—but they might hope to gain the support of the Exasperated, who are wary of Trump and voted for him out of frustration with the past few decades of politics, embodied by Hillary Clinton.

The Nationalists represent an enduring cult of personality. They will be pleased by Trump’s executive orders limiting immigration and punishing sanctuary cities, not even necessarily because they disdain immigrants, but rather because of what immigrants represent. When I spoke to them, these voters sensed that they were losing control of their country and its identity, that they were losing their place in the social hierarchy. Trump’s “America First” approach comforts them and reinforces the supremacy of white people.

Trump is likely to maintain Nationalist support until the bitter end, even if he is unable to deliver the economic prosperity he promised, and even if his social agenda is ruled unconstitutional. He will inevitably blame others, and this constituency will believe it. Short of a microphone capturing him trashing these supporters behind their backs, they represent his die-hard base.

The Exasperated are different. They have likely voted for Democrats and Republicans over the years, seeking someone who would champion their cause. They feel betrayed by the countless politicians who have stood in front of shuttered mills and smelters and promised to bring manufacturing and mining economies back to life. It’s why they have swung from party to party, from year to year—often reacting to the failures of previous candidates to deliver. It’s why so many of them voted for Obama after previously voting for George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton before that. They are not “Independent” so much as they are just constantly disappointed.

The Exasperated voted against Clinton in 2016 because, as a longtime member of the Washington establishment, she portended more broken promises. They voted for Trump because he was the first politician in a generation to make a deliberate, authentic pitch for their support.

From what I saw in Youngstown, the Exasperated will be wary of the president. He has already filled his administration with business elites who profited from the foreclosure of American homes and the offshoring of American businesses. And they are savvy enough to distinguish between the salvation of a Carrier factory and the salvation of an industry. If Trump presses for tax cuts for the wealthy before raising the federal minimum wage, if Trump takes away Obamacare without replacing it with something better, if Trump fails to deliver on the jobs he promised, they will notice. They have adopted a “wait and see” approach.

Herein lies the hope for Democrats. The party will never satisfy—nor will it contort to satisfy—the Nationalists, but there will be opportunities to win back the Exasperated.

First, opportunities appear in the Rust Belt, where Democrats lost contests they need in their calculations of congressional majorities and the White House in 2020. While Nationalists predominate in the American South and the Plains, which have been reliably Republican for decades, the Exasperated predominate the Rust Belt, which is home to many Democrats, former Democrats and so-called Independents. The Rust Belt was pivotal to Trump’s redrawing of the electoral map, but his support there is not particularly strong. A poll fielded shortly after the election by the Washington Post and George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government finds that among white working-class Trump voters, almost all said that they shared “some” or “most” of the president’s views. A mere 2 percent said that they share “hardly any” of Trump’s views. So, his support among his white working-class supporters would seem robust. However, among all regions of the country, the Midwest and the Rust Belt feature the most Trump supporters who share only “some” of the president’s views (46 percent). These can be inferred to be the Exasperated, in the region where Democrats endured their narrowest and most painful defeats, and where Trump spoke directly to this group’s nostalgia for the lost manufacturing era.

Second, Democrats need to be careful whom they nominate. It is impossible to evaluate the attraction of Trump independently from Clinton’s candidacy. With a figure at the top of the ticket who is able to excite with the Democratic base and simultaneously connect with white working-class voters, one can imagine many of the 18 percent of white working-class Democratic voters who cast their ballots for Trump will return to the Democratic fold. What would have happened if Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren had been the nominee instead? We may find out in 2020.

For Republicans thus far, it has been easy to stand idle while the Trump administration executes its radical executive orders, banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and promising to erect a vast border wall. The GOP establishment’s bargain has always required them to tolerate a degree of nativism in order to pursue their business-friendly economic agenda. (See Ryan, Paul.) But to maintain the Exasperated, Republicans will also need to tolerate Trump’s dismantling of free markets, his comfort with mushrooming debt, and his destabilization of the international order they helped foster. That may be too much for party leaders to swallow.

But these views might not be so easy for Democrats to swallow either. The party has largely moved to a free trade platform that relies on the support of minority groups who are also averse to the white working-class perspective. To win back white working-class support, the Democratic Party, like Trump, needs to make a deliberate, authentic appeal to these voters and demonstrate why it represents their best interests. This likely entails a clearer focus on the issues that matter to working people—everything from living wage to labor protections to holding businesses accountable.

Put simply, a significant portion of the white working-class vote is up in the air. Yes, Nationalists will stay loyal to Trump and his party. But the support of the Exasperated depends on the complete reorientation of the Republican Party and the extent to which Democrats can develop an authentic, persuasive platform to make wary, white working-class people feel that they have a future. And that’s going to require a reorientation of their own.

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