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February 18, 2016

Rod Dreher: The Establishment's Failure to See the Appeal of Trump Represents Their Own Limitations, Not Trump Supporters'

Before getting to that, I know the Trump supporters want me to note that new polls suggest that yesterday's WSJ/NBC most-likely-an-outlier poll is in fact most likely an outlier.

A CBS poll, conducted mostly after the South Carolina debate (one day of polling was before/during it), puts it, nationally, at:

Trump 35%

Cruz 18%

Mario 12%

Kasich 11%

The poll notes that Kasich is in a statistical tie for third place with The Only Man Who Can Win The GOP's College-Proud Cohort.

In Fox's new poll of South Carolina, it's Trump 32, Cruz 19, Mario 15.

Rod Dreher has a good post on Trump's appeal -- and why that appeal eludes the Establishment types.

It's worth your time.

Let me analogize to the Democrat Party: The Democrat Party can be divided into two groups. (Let me say right away that any sentence starting with the words "X movement can be divided into two groups" is already wrong and lacking nuance, but this is at least a useful conceptual framework -- so long as it's acknowledged it's merely that. The map is not the territory, etc.)

The first group, the so-called gentry liberals, only care about what are termed "lifestyle" issues. They're big on the environment, gay marriage, the courts, and guns -- and when I say guns, I don't mean they're upset by crime. They tend to live in low-crime areas. Which is part of the reason they don't like guns -- they see no use for them, having no need for them themselves.

No, their objection to guns is cultural and aesthetic. Guns are ugly, guns are "real" in a sense they dislike (they prefer abstractions), guns represent the "hard" world they dislike so intensely, favoring the "soft" world that exists chiefly in their imaginations. They prefer that killer apps be made of electrons and logic, not atoms and engineering.

On the other side are economic/populist liberals, like union guys, lower income workers that want subsidies, people on welfare, etc.

This latter group is driven primarily by tangible wants, not ideas about what a Platonic "good society" would look like.

In a nutshell, though he doesn't use these words, Dreher is dividing the GOP into two groups: Gentry conservatives, chiefly concerned about matters of ideology and lifestyle, such as religious liberty and abortion, and less well-off voters, many of whose chief concern is simply to land a steady job and not live lives of what Dreher calls "desperation," though I'd say this is overstated. I'd say "insecurity," in the main, with many (though not most) actually in a state of "desperation" as he says.

Dreher makes it very plain that he does in fact consider religious liberty to be the tip-top issue, himself, and that he thinks people giving it short-shrift do not understand how important it is to them, as well. (I would agree and say religious liberty is the canary in the coalmine of all freedom of speech/freedom of belief/freedom to just be sorts of issues.)

But he also notes that many candidates continue making their pitch basically to the gentry conservatives, while Trump is making his appeal to tangible-needs/economic insecurity conservatives. (And, we should say: Non-conservatives, and liberals, too.)

Though I thought Ted Cruz did well last night, I did fault him, even at the time, for pitching himself so much to the religious liberty/religious values voter. He didn't talk enough about economics, I don't think, except for a promise to fight for his tax plan which, he says, will result in the abolition of the IRS. Well, no one really thinks he can pull that off, and even if he abolished the IRS as a technical matter, we would still have some successor organization of tax-collectors, largely if not entirely staffed by "former IRS" staffers.

Anyway, the point is that Cruz (and Rubio, of course) continued to push for these ideological/abstract things. They didn't talk enough about the tangibles. Rubio did some talk on that, chiefly in the I Feel Your Pain no-specific-plan-but-I-empathize vein.

I think Cruz's people should read Dreher and take this to heart. The reason Trump pulls 35-40% of the GOP is because 35-40% of the GOP feels so left behind and so threatened that they don't really feel like they have the luxury of worrying about what seems to them to be airy, second-order concerns.

They're worried about having a roof over their head.

I get why Cruz makes such a hard pitch for the evangelicals -- because this is his natural base of power, and yet he's actually losing it to Trump -- but I don't think the evangelicals are supporting Trump because of any evangelical concern. I think they're supporting Trump because he's telling them "I'll build a wall and keep out foreign labor and tax the hell out of foreign goods; my wall will protect you."

I'm not saying Cruz should follow Trump down the path of tradewar populism; I am saying that if he wants to attract this big share of the vote, he should start talking up economics, and not just in terms of a tax plan most people consider unlikely to find any purchase.

Part of the reason Trump is winning -- assuming this gentry/non-gentry division has any sort of reality to it at all -- is that Trump is appealing to the non-gentry-conservatives well-nigh alone (Kasich is playing in these waters a bit, too, but weakly), while everyone else, including Cruz, who people usually lump together with Trump as an outsider or anti-establishment populist candidate, is trying to divide up the votes of gentry conservatives.

Yes, gentry conservatives need to be appealed to, but you can't beat Trump while leaving this huge bloc of non-gentry-conservatives almost entirely conceded to him.*

I renew my suggestion that non-Trump candidates, Cruz in particular (my horse in this race), look anew at the the speeches of Reagan and note how he relentlessly linked his policy prescriptions to tangible gains, such as extra money in your pocket.

(DO NOT COMMENT ON THAT POST, no matter how brilliant you think it is. The banning software reads comments on old posts as spam and instantly bans anyone attempting to comment on dated posts. If you want to say something nice about that old post, say it here, in this fresh post.)

* Trump wins here for the same reason Fox wins. The % of conservatives is only 35% or so of the country, but Fox is the only news channel playing to this demographic. The rest of the networks are trying to divide up the liberal demographic.

You just can't concede a big fat bloc of 35% of the GOP (or GOP-leaning voters) to one dude in a race that's split multiple ways. This big bloc needs to be contended for, if anyone else is to have a chance.

Maybe anyone who prefers Cruz or Rubio should start rooting very hard for Kasich, because Kaich is similarly playing for economic progressives (though with a different issue profile).

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posted by Ace at 04:41 PM

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