Monday, May 2, 2016

Trump Exposed the Schism; He Did Not Create It

Traditionally, the Republican Party is described as an awkward coalition between economic libertarians and social conservatives who have little in common.  But Trump is revealing a third element that might be called nationalist, populist, Fortress America, or less flattering names.  One usually hears the libertarians referred to as the Republican elite and the social conservatives as the rank-and-file, but that is proving to be only partly true.  Certainly it is true that the libertarians are a decidedly upscale bunch and dominate the Republican donor class.  But the religious/social conservatives have a significant elite leadership consisting of preacher and (some) pundits, and their influence in the party is real and significant (especially on the issue of Israel).

Liberals and, to a considerable extent, the Republican leadership, have conflated the social conservatives and the Fortress America crowd as the Republican rank-and-file, but Trump supporters are making clear that this is not so.  The most socially conservative element of the Republican Party -- southern, Evangelical Christian, regular church goers -- mostly supports Ted Cruz.  Trump supporters are typically not especially religious, not regular church goers, and only slightly socially conservative.  Their biggest issue appears to be disengaging from the outside world, whether in the form of immigration, foreign trade, diplomacy, or war.

And one can understand the Fortress America crowd's frustration.  Until the Donald Trump candidacy, it had no real representatives in the Republican elite and no place at table.  The libertarian leadership was forever advocating free trade and at least toying with the idea of an opening to immigrants, while really most focused on cutting its own taxes.  To the extent it made gestures toward the rank-and-file, these mostly consisted of opposition to abortion and same sex marriage, which just are not priorities for Fortress Americans.  Religious conservatives often complain that Republican donors want to buy them off with empty pandering, but Fortress Americans don't get even that.  Until now.

Donald Trump has exposed this schism; he did not create it.  Indeed, some commentators have remarked at similar candidates have been popping up quite regularly -- George Wallace, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, and Ron Paul all blazed the trail that Donald Trump is now treading so confidently.  Trump is the most mainstream of the bunch.  Wallace was a flat-out racist; Buchanan was an anti-Semite with fascistic tendencies; Perot showed signs of clinical paranoia; and Paul had wacky goldbug ideas.  Before his run for President Trump's politics, to the extent that he had any at all, were completely conventional.  Even now, his views on subjects other than immigration are unremarkable.

So far as I can tell, these are how the three main components of the Republican coalition break down:

Social conservative
Fortress America
High income and education, donor class
Southern, Evangelical Christian, church goers
Older, working class, no college education
Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Koch Brothers
Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson
Donald Trump, much of talk radio
Cutting taxes, reducing regulation, cutting spending
Abortion, same sex marriage, religious exemptions
Immigration, foreign trade, no ground wars
Foreign policy
Extreme hawks, oppose diplomacy, favor war
Absolute support for Israel, oppose diplomacy
Disengagement, oppose both diplomacy and war
Cutting rates is top priority
Not a priority
Not a priority
Social Security/Medicare
Want to cut, turn to defined contribution, or phase out
Want to preserve
Want to preserve
Government spending
Oppose, except for war
Oppose in theory, less so in practice
Oppose in theory, less so in practice
Abortion, same sex marriage
Favor, but not a priority
Opposed, top priority
Free trade
Black Lives Matter
Indifferent to mild support

So the real question has to be what to make of the Fortress America crowd.  How large a share of the Republican Party are they?  Do they deserve a respectable place in American politics or are they, after all, just a bunch of bigots and authoritarians? Is their propensity toward disreputable leaders like Wallace, Buchanan, Perot, Ron Paul, and Donald Trump a sign of dangerous authoritarianism, or simply an understandable frustration at being shut out of the political process and denied any "respectable" leadership?

I confess to not having the answers just yet, but these are important questions to keep in mind, and to explore.

No comments:

Post a Comment