As pundits grapple with Donald Trump’s unlikely ascendancy to the presumptive nominee of the Republican party, they often cite his so-called “populist” appeal. In a new, must read piece at Vox, Matthew Yglesias dismantles this analysis, noting that not only are Trump supporters largely not struggling financially, but that “[t]o understand the patterns of support and opposition to Trump, you have to talk about race.”
The full article, “You can’t talk about Trump’s rise without talking about racism,” is available online here and is excerpted below:
It’s taboo in the United States to throw around accusations of racism. And obviously nobody can be sure what’s in the heart of Donald Trump or his voters.
But we do know that the unusual geographic pattern of Trumpism — stronger in the South and Northeast than in the Midwest or West — corresponds to the geography of white racial resentment in the United States. We also know that Trump rose to political prominence based on the allegation that America’s first black president wasn’t a real American at all, and launched his 2016 campaign with the allegation that Mexican immigrants to the United States are largely rapists and murders.
We know that this kind of rhetoric does not resonate with nonwhite Americans but has appealed to white voters in the kinds of places — some poor, others affluent — where the level of racism among the white population is unusually high.
Leaving this racial element out of the story not only paints a false portrait of Trump’s rise, it makes it impossible to understand the resistance to Trump in some segments of the GOP elite. It’s true that Trump has been less than entirely orthodox on some important policy issues. But that was also true of George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.
Part of the difference is that Trump simply hasn’t kissed the right rings in an effort to have his past deviations expunged. But a big part of the difference is that over the past 15 years the Republican Party has been trying to respond to the shrinking white share of the population by broadening its demographic appeal. There have been plenty of disagreements about exactly how to do that, but building bridges to black and Latino voters has been a common goal.
Trump represents, in effect, abandonment of that goal in favor of a very different idea of responding to the shrinking white share of the population by politicizing and mobilizing white identity while downplaying free market doctrines. That, in turn, reflects a broader trend in right-of-center politics that is also manifesting itself in different ways everywhere — from the UK and France to Sweden and Finland, a trend that threatens the ideals many American conservative leaders are deeply committed to.
It’s polite to both Trump and his supporters to sweep this all under the rug with hazy talk of “anti-establishment” feeling. But to do so completely misses a huge part of what the conflict between pro- and anti-Trump forces is actually about — is the Republican Party going to be an ideological party or an ethnic one?