42 Trump Takes in 2000 Words
Donald Trump is very likely to be the GOP nominee for the 2016 Presidential election. If you’ve not paid much attention to the primary, this is probably a shock. It’s a shock even if you pay lots of attention. How did this happen? Luckily the internet is here with a wide range of takes on the topic.
But there’s too many takes. Let’s do a high-level scan of the takes, covering 42 takes in roughly 2,000 words, to get a sense of what people are debating. The debate among the takes is whether you see the voters as fundamentally scary or issues-oriented, in what specific way you see the Republican Party and other institutions failing, and all the numerous ways to blame President Obama for this.
Note: these takes tend to be dude-dominated because, well, dudes are more likely to get paid to write hot takes on the internet. Take authors in parentheses. I’m no doubt not doing justice to your take in my summary, please forgive me.
Are Trump voters really scary, or normal scary?
Trump voters tend to rate high on measures of authoritarianism. They want to impose order where they see disruptive changes, want children to be obedient and respectful, and seek extreme policies to fight threats. Crucially, they want strong leaders to defeat these fears, strong people like Trump. Authoritarianism is on the rise, remaking the political landscape (Amanda Taub).
GOP politics has become about the performance of power and domination over weakness. Calling out who has strength and who doesn’t links Trump bullying Jeb with the Swift Boat campaign and numerous activities in-between (Josh Marshall). The winners win, the losers lose, money buys political power and the ability to humiliate and dominate others. Why hide it? Trump celebrates this about inequality, and people enjoy it (Jodi Dean). Trump is also a businessman, and GOP voters believe business is ideal and government a failure, that government is best when it is like a business, so it’s natural for them to want a businessman rather than a statesman (Lauren Berlant).
But is it US specific? Trump is part of a scary and dangerous wave of authoritarians and xenophobes across Europe, who have managed to come into power in Russia, Poland, and Hungary and are political forces in France, U.K., and Sweden (David Remnick). Those countries have a lot of different economic institutional structures, yet it’s on the rise everywhere. Yikes.
But let’s stay in the United States. Trump also addresses the racialization of white voters. White voters feel economic precarity, a loss of privilege, and falling cultural hegemony, all made evident by President Obama, and they seek someone to restore their status (Jamelle Bouie). Bouie puts a lot of focus on Obama in this story, though it isn’t necessary for the argument. Which is good, because I can’t shake the feeling that if Hillary Clinton had been President, with a similar record over the past eight years, we’d be in the same place.
These “middle American radicals,” economically liberal but socially conservative, distrustful of elites and the poor, have been around for decades. Trump and this moment was made for them (John Judis). His voters are motivated by a resentment over “political correctness,” a marginalization where others “enjoy privileges, resources, and status to which [they] are denied access,” including explicit racial calls and violent protests (Molly Ball). Trump supporters may be making a connection between political correctness and the economics of the donor class, one between our economic and cultural elites. Trump’s rejection of libertarian dogma is joined, rather than incidental, to his attacks on political correctness, because it’s the same elites supporting both (R.R. Reno).
Class-based contempt for the voters has been less prevalent than I’d imagine, but now that Trump is more certain it’s coming out on the right joined with exterminism: “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities [voting Trump] is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible” (Kevin Williamson). Wait, really? Doubling-down: “These are strong words, but they are fundamentally true and important to say” (David French).
Though maybe it’s much less than all of that. Perhaps it’s the immigration, stupid. GOP voters care deeply about stopping immigration, and it’s what put Trump in first place to begin with (Mickey Kaus). Note the game theory of burning your escape route. Supporters don’t have to believe Trump will get Mexico to pay for a wall, they can observe he’s building a coalition that is incapable of backtracking towards Hispanics in the general. Either way, Jan Brewer in Arizona showed, by winning from being hard on immigration but allowing for an expansion of Medicaid, there’s a GOP constituency here (Josh Barro).
Or maybe it’s the financial crisis and the Bush years, stupid? Conservatives are still feeling the pain and betrayal of the financial crisis and the Great Recession (John Podhoretz). It’s nice to think so, but I think Trump and his supporters have spent far more time talking NAFTA than subprime mortgage instruments, more on Mexico wall-building than Wall Street crimes.
Or maybe it’s the trade, stupid. Everyone outside an elite bubble of professionals feel nothing but anxiety over free trade, and Trump is able to capture it(Thomas Frank). Trump does well where middle-aged whites are facing higher mortality and fewer job prospects (Jeff Guo). Though is the jingoism a necessary component to making this issue salient for a candidate?
There’s a real constituency here, conservatives who are deeply skeptical of trade and globalization and less tied to social issues. Yet the GOP was unable to find someone to incorporate them, so it went to the violent bully Donald Trump. Trump ditched free market ideology and embraced nationalism instead, and it’s worked out great (Matthew Yglesias).
But aren’t some Americans always anxious about race, economics and authority? Is it worse now? This is happening because of fundamental failures in American parties, media, and civic institutions. Norms are breaking down, and the Republican Party can’t hold them up (Brendan Nyhan). I do think those anxieties are worse now, but institutional breakdown is also important.
There seems to be three overlapping theories. One is that the GOP is reaping what they’ve sown, another is that the GOP has been taken over by people who can’t address Trump voters, and a third is that the GOP is simply too weak to have stopped this.
The chickens are coming home to roost. Trump is the culmination of three major GOP trends: the bubble mentality where outside opinions aren’t respected, much less engaged, the Southern Strategy of racial resentment, and the embrace of conservative economics. Trump is the symptom here, not the disease (David Atkins). Trump represents an evolution of dog-whistle politics and that Southern Strategy, updating it to the 21st Century with a focus on Muslim immigration and border walls (Jeet Heer).
Egged on by Fox News and other institutional players, those arguing that President Obama’s agenda was fundamentally radical, a hijacking of government designed to destroy the American way of life, were bound to see this explode in their faces when they then tried to run more respectable candidates. The fact that the Republicans in Congress haven’t stopped this tyranny is sufficient to blow up the party (Ezra Klein). For the past decade, the GOP has been responding that liberals and Democrats don’t have reasonable disagreements, but that they are instead committing treason and trying to destroy the country. If you toss both evidence and civility overboard in your politics, of course someone like Trump will show up (President Obama). Trump, who focuses on strength over appeasement, action over deliberation, aggressive nationalism over cosmopolitan multicultural values, is running as the anti-Obama the GOP said we needed (Brian Beutler). Conservatives are seeing the “forces they have successfully harnessed for so long shake free and turn against them” (Jonathan Chait).
This wasn’t just shock jocks — check out Arthur Brooks’ 2010 The Battle, reviewed by Jonathan Chait here, making the case that Obama was fundamentally hostile to the American way of life from the get-go. Trying to convey this idea to an audience that doesn’t listen to talk radio all day was the cause of the infamous “Obama knows exactly what he is doing” Rubio debate meltdown.
It’s also talk radio. If you are reading this, chances are you don’t listen to much conservative talk radio, even though it’s massive, an order of magnitude size larger than whatever “respectable” conservatives you read online. Trump’s scorched earth approach reflects the mindset and worldview talk radio creates much more than the DC consultant class (Kaleb Horton).
Maybe it’s who has been making the calls within the party. The Republican base doesn’t share elite ideological commitments to entitlement-slashing and low taxes. The Tea Party views these programs not through abstract ideological commitments but in terms of deservedness. That the GOP left 2012 thinking they didn’t need to back off an agenda of more immigration and cutting both taxes and entitlement had them walking right into this mess (David Frum). The GOP can’t convince the working-class voters that they have their interests at heart, much less that they would fight for them. Those voters, in turn, feel betrayal and anger towards their party (Reihan Salam).
With a party on the verge of collapse, people are getting out the knives to settle decades-old fights. Such as the idea that neoconservatives used to get this. Their bread-and-butter was being for the New Deal but skeptical of the War on Poverty, and they were the perfect intellectuals to guide the Reagan Democrats into the GOP. Yet they quickly fell in line with the movement, trading any thoughts on economic policy to the libertarians in exchange for getting to run the foreign policy (Michael Lind).
Trump also reflects a resurgence of the “paleoconservatives,” as his candidacy, which ditches conservative litmus tests to just make America Great Again, reads just like the advice Samuel Francis gave Pat Buchanan in the 1990s. Perhaps they were just early, and needed the conservative movement to run out of more steam (Michael Brendan Dougherty). Trump doesn’t just represent paleocons however. His base is broader than that, and reflects all those screwed by movement conservatives. Evangelicals, moderates, pragmatists; all those who are sick of the Club for Growth and neoconservative empire builders calling all the shots. Ironically no parts of the conservative coalition are happy coming out of the Bush years, and all the Reagan 2.0 stuff is meaningless out here in 2016. ”Movement conservatism is a jobs program. Those who have the jobs in DC are happy. No one else is” (Daniel McCarthy).
But what if there is no party? Politicians and commentators were so convinced that “the party decides” that nobody took specific actions to make that happen. Trump rides a collective action problem to victory, while elites and media embracing this theory destroyed the conditions that made the theory work (Daniel Drezner). It’s also important to remember that the base hates and distrusts the GOP leadership so much that it overwhelms, or at least cancels out, what one might dislike about Trump (Mollie Hemingway).
But it’s not just the party, it’s resources. Reporting backs up the idea that there’s simply no Republican Party there to make a decision to fight Trump. The donors would rather fund their pet ideological causes, or even their own infrastructure, than contribute to a party strong enough to exert influence. By the time they thought the better of it, it was too late (Alexander Burns, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin).
It’s also the media too. Their fake “objectivity” and “neutrality” has stopped their role as gatekeepers against an authoritarian political figure (Glenn Greenwald). Their desire for clicks and eyeballs have them giving Trump more coverage and credibility than he ever deserved (Eliana Johnson). Maybe, but the coverage is just as much a demand as a supply phenomenon, and the turnouts Trump is getting is bigger than what could be driven by CNN stories. Also Republicans have spent so much time saying the media is corrupt it’s rich to have them expect the media to bail them out here.
It wouldn’t be a GOP debacle without forcing President Obama to be responsible. Here the game appears to be what Obama hasn’t done to cause Trump to win. I do wonder though, if Obama had the ability to split the GOP in half, why wouldn’t he take it? Was Rove trying to bring Democrats together by putting gay marriage initiatives on ballots in 2004?
Obama passed too many laws in 2009–2010 (Josh Kraushaar). By forming a young, multiethnic coalition that is liberal on social issues, Obama has alienated blue-collar Democrats, forcing them into the GOP but the GOP doesn’t know what to do with them, so Trump (Ross Douthat). Obama “says that Caitlyn Jenner is a woman but ISIS is not Islamic….invites Clock Boy to the White House,” which is all PC and empowers the anti-PC Trump (Ben Shapiro). He divided us, cleaving a way for Trump (Ben Domenech). Obama has failed us when it comes to fighting terror, opening up room for Trump (WSJ). Actually it’s FDR’s fault, New Deal liberal fascism begets Obama liberal fascism begets Trump regular fascism (Jonah Goldberg).
My favorite is that Obama has empowered the administrative state, and that is a theory of governance in line with Donald Trump, hence Trump (Angelo Codevilla). If the first thing you think in response to Trump winning the nomination is “this confirms everything I’ve ever thought about the Chevron deference and my own pet, extreme theory of the nondelegation doctrine,” chances are you should talk to more people who aren’t on the Professional Right. That’s probably good advice for all of them, yet I think conservatives won’t do that until it’s far too late.