Donald Trump Appeals To The Worst Instincts In Voters, And The Worst Parts Of American Politics

The longer this race goes on, the hard it becomes to deny the truth about Donald Trump.

Trump Nixon V

The latest national poll from Public Policy Polling is fairly consistent with what we’ve seen from other pollsters lately in that it shows Donald Trump in the lead with 29% followed by Ben Carson at 15%, which is his highest number in any national poll that I’m aware of, followed by Jeb Bush at 9%, Carly Fiorina at 8%, Marco Rubio at 7%, Ted Cruz and John Kasich tied at 6%, and Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker at 5%, with all the other candidates polling under 5%. What’s perhaps most telling about the poll, though, is what it tells us about Donald Trump’s supporters:

Our new poll finds that Trump is benefiting from a GOP electorate that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in another country, and that immigrant children should be deported. 66% of Trump’s supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim to just 12% that grant he’s a Christian. 61% think Obama was not born in the United States to only 21% who accept that he was. And 63% want to amend the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, to only 20% who want to keep things the way they are.

Trump’s beliefs represent the consensus among the GOP electorate. 51% overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. 54% think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the United States. That’s less than the 40% who think Canadian born Ted Cruz was born in the United States.

Trump’s supporters aren’t alone in those attitudes though. Only among supporters of John Kasich (58/13), Jeb Bush (56/18), Chris Christie (59/33), and Marco Rubio (42/30) are there more people who think President Obama was born in the United States than that he wasn’t. And when you look at whose supporters are more inclined to think that the President is a Christian than a Muslim the list shrinks to just Christie (55/29), Kasich (41/22), and Bush (29/22).  Bush’s inability to appeal to the kind of people who hold these beliefs is what’s keeping him from succeeding in the race- his overall favorability is 39/42, and with voters identifying themselves as ‘very conservative’ it’s all the way down at 33/48.

Rather than being some kind of anomaly, these results are consistent with similar polling that was part of the Des Moines Register poll released last Saturday which showed that nearly half of Trump’s supporters did not believe the President was born in the United States. On some level, of course, this is entirely unsurprising. When he flirted with running for the Presidency back in 2011, Donald Trump spent most of his time asserting that the President of the United States was lying about having been born in Hawaii. He claimed to have sent investigators to the Aloha State to look into the matter and that they had uncovered “big news” about the truth behind the President’s birth. Nothing ever came of that, of course, and Trump largely receded into the background after the White House released a certified copy of the President’s birth certificate and the President largely humiliated Trump at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner while Trump was sitting in the audience. It’s worth remembering, though, that while Trump was pretending to think about running for President four years and emphasizing the birther issue, he spent a good deal of time at the top of the polls for the Republican nomination. No doubt, at least some portion of the people who were attracted to him back them were drawn to him because of he was talking about that issue, and those people are no doubt among his supporters now.

As Ian Reifowtiz notes, though, this time around Trump is doing more than just tapping into a the fringe birther movement, he’s also tapping into some very unpleasant parts of American political culture:

Let’s start with the obvious. Given that the candidate himself has characterized Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, we can’t be surprised that one of his partisans told Jorge Ramos, the most influential Latino journalist there is, to “get out of my country.” Ramos responded: “This is my country. I’m a U.S. citizen too.”

Clearly thrown by the idea that this man with a Spanish accent might actually be an American, the Trump supporter spluttered: “Well, whatever. No. Univision. No. It’s not about you.” Ramos, able to form actual sentences in English, calmly replied, “It’s not about you. It’s about the United States.” It’s not clear whether Trump’s rhetoric exacerbates this kind of bigotry, or simply attracts those who already possess it. Either way, he and his supporters are a perfect match.

At a press conference only a few minutes earlier, Trump himself had dismissedRamos–and, by extension, his large Latino audience–with the insult: “Go back to Univision.” This was after the journalist asked a question about the candidate’s immigration plan without waiting to be called on. Trump’s insult sounded to many Latinos a lot like: “Go back to Mexico.” Ramos discussed the interaction here.

(…)

An array of hate was on display in the crowd at a recent Trump rally in Alabama, where neo-Confederate activists passed out flyers, a reporter heard a number of “off-color remarks about minorities,” and one especially enthusiastic gentleman couldn’t stop chanting “white power.” Speaking of white power, you remember former KKK grand wizard David Duke, right? He endorsed Trump, declaring that the Donald “understands the real sentiment of America.” By the way, Duke isn’t the only white supremacist, white nationalist, or Neo-Nazi jumping on Trump’s bandwagon. What does Trump say about all these cheeky rapscallions who think he’s the Great White Hope? When asked about Duke’s endorsement, Trump claimed he hadn’t heard of him. He then added, “people like me across the board. Everybody likes me.” Well, not quite everybody.

None of this should really be a surprise, of course. From his talk about a “silent majority” to his immigration plan and his completely false claims about an epidemic of illegal immigrant crime, specifically rape, Trump is quite obviously tapping into some of the worst prejudices and fears that motivate voters in many parts of the country. In the beginning, perhaps, it would have been easy to dismiss his rhetoric as yet another example of the ranting that we’ve from him for years now, and which had become a staple of his Twitter account long before he ever thought about running for President. Given the way that has unfolded, though, it seems fairly obvious that Trump is consciously tapping into the same poisonous vein of American politics that people George Wallace did during the Civil Rights Era and during his 1968 Presidential campaign.

Trump’s immigration plan, with its call for an end to birthright citizenship that has been embraced by a significant number of his fellow Republican candidates and led some of them to come up with bizarre ideas of their own, is perhaps the most prominent part of the way that Trump is appealing to this segment of the Republican Party. While much of what he has said about immigration in general and birthright citizenship in particular has been rejected and criticized by conservative intellectuals and other leaders, it’s quite obvious that the grassroots likes what what it hears from him. Indeed, in many cases the more Trump has been criticized even by people of influence on the right, the more his support has grown and the more fanatic his supporters have become in attacking those who disagree with him.

Conservative pundit Ben Domenech has said that Trump is attempting to appeal to “white identity politics,” and that seems to be a fairly good description of exactly what is going on here:

Now that we have had time to observe the Donald Trump phenomenon, there is enough evidence to make a clear assessment of what it represents. The rise of Trump is an epic expression of frustration with the American political system, and it is a natural outgrowth of frustrations with America’s changing demographics; the hollowing out of white working class values and culture, as Charles Murray has documented extensively; and what life is like when governed by the administrative state, where the president increasingly acts as a unilateral executive and elected representatives consistently ignore the people’s priorities.

At its best, these frustrations would be articulated by the Republican Party in ways that lead to more freedom and less government. At its worst, these frustrations cast aside Constitutional principles, encourage dictatorial behavior, and become the toxic political equivalent of the two Southie brothers who claimed Trump inspired them to beat up a Hispanic homeless man.

(…)

For decades, Republicans have held to the idea that they are unified by a fusionist ideological coalition with a shared belief in limited government, while the Democratic Party was animated by identity politics for the various member groups of its coalition.This belief has been bolstered in the era of President Obama, which has seen the Democratic Party stress identity politics narratives about the war on this or that group of Americans, even as they adopted a more corporatist attitude toward Wall Street and big business (leading inevitably to their own populist problem in Sen. Bernie Sanders). What Trump represents is the potential for a significant shift in the Republican Party toward white identity politics for the American right, and toward a coalition more in keeping with the European right than with the American.

“Identity politics for white people” is not the same thing as “racism”, nor are the people who advocate for it necessarily racist, though of course the categories overlap. In fact, white identity politics was at one point the underlying trend for the majoritarian American cultural mainstream. But since the late 1960s, it has been transitioning in fits and starts into something more insular and distinct. Now, half a century later, the Trump moment very much illuminates its function as one interest group among many, as opposed to the background context for everything the nation does. The white American with the high-school education who works at the duck-feed factory in northern Indiana has as much right to advance his interest as anyone else. But that interest is now being redefined in very narrow terms, in opposition to the interests of other ethnic groups, and in a marked departure from the expansive view of the freedoms of a common humanity advanced by the Founders and Abraham Lincoln

(…)

There is a slim possibility that what’s happening in the GOP primary campaign this summer is actually healthy and salutary, as conservative intellectual Yuval Levin argues here. But it is also possible that it represents one more way America is becoming more European. A classically liberal right is actually fairly uncommon in western democracies, requiring as it does a coalition that synthesizes populist tendencies and directs such frustrations toward the cause of limited government. Only the United States and Canada have successfully maintained one over an extended period. Now the popularity of Donald Trump suggests ours may be going away. In a sense we are reverting to a general mean – but we are also losing a rare and precious inheritance that is our only real living link to the Revolutionary era and its truly revolutionary ideas about self-government.

Whether all of this is an intentional effect of his rhetoric on Trump’s part is rather irrelevant, because it’s rather obvious even from watching his own Twitter feed and the things from supporters that he chooses to share from the public that he and the campaign are aware of exactly what they are tapping into. It is, as I said, the same vein of prejudice and fear that Wallace tapped into in 1968 and that formed the basis for Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ and his own response to civil rights activism in the 1970s. In the end, it doesn’t matter if politicians who exploit these fears and prejudices are themselves racist, or if they’re just opportunistic, because in either event the effect is the same.  The fact that people like David Duke and Pat Buchanan are speaking positively of Trump is not a coincidence, and even if Trump himself doesn’t embrace such praise the fact that he continues with the rhetoric that brought people like that to the table demonstrates that he is perfectly fine with tapping into some of the darker corners of American politics. The two questions going forward will be whether the rest of the Republican Party will go along for the ride, and whether the conservatives who are now criticizing Trump will suddenly rally to his side if he somehow manages to win the Republican nomination, and how much Trumpism will damage the Republican Party.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    Ignorant Americans have always had a strange attraction to snake oil salesmen.

  2. legion says:

    Donald Trump The Republican Party Appeals To The Worst Instincts In Voters, And The Worst Parts Of American Politics

    Fixed.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    The fact that people like David Duke and Pat Buchanan are speaking positively of Trump is not a coincidence, and even if Trump himself doesn’t embrace such praise the fact that he continues with the rhetoric that brought people like that to the table demonstrates that he is perfectly fine with tapping into some of the darker corners of American politics

    in a general way, it does feel a bit like 1968 again, when the Republican Party appealed very successfully to White resentment, however it isn’t as chaotic now in 2015 as it was in 1968.

    I’m sure that Trump and guys like Buchanan feel that resentment is a vein to be successfully tapped, if only for reasons of motivating voter turnout. Demographics, in terms of the numbers, work for Democrats, however within those numbers Democrats cannot really take for granted high voter turnout. The only motivating factor Democrats have right now is the “first female president’ and although it’s early, Hillary is in the doldrums.

    I really have a hard time seeing how the Republican Party is going to pay a price for appealing to the worst in the voters – they’ve been doing this consistently since 2009 and they’ve been very successful. Why stop doing what seemingly works?

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Buchanan is still over at TAC, but I notice that whenever he starts running off the rails about “them darkies” a lot of us treat him like the lunatic barfly over in the corner.

  5. humanoid.panda says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I really have a hard time seeing how the Republican Party is going to pay a price for appealing to the worst in the voters – they’ve been doing this consistently since 2009 and they’ve been very successful. Why stop doing what seemingly works?

    With the glaring exception of 2012..

  6. grumpy realist says:

    I’m reminded of A.J.P. Taylor’s comments about Louis Napoleon:

    ” He was convinced that he should be ranging the jungle searching after new adventures, lashing his tail. He was no tiger. He would have made an adequate, though untrustworthy, domestic cat.”

  7. michael reynolds says:

    First off: well-done, Doug. God knows you get beat on enough, so I want to say thank you for this piece.

    I could of course say I told you so, but that would be churlish. Anyway, I understand decent people’s reluctance to believe that their fellow humans can be such swine. I don’t enjoy it myself.

    It’s an absolutely damning picture of the Republican Party. I don’t know that anyone can now save the GOP as a national party. The whole thing approaches a fiction-writer’s notion of symmetry – the party sold its soul in 1968, and now it begins to reap the destruction it so richly deserves. From Nixon to Trump.

    The only reassuring note is that the sickest elements are rather aged and will attrit naturally. Hopefully from the reeking ashes a new conservative party will rise. It may even call itself ‘Republican’ but ten years from now this Republican Party will be gone, dead of bile, stupidity, moral corruption and old age.

  8. dazedandconfused says:

    Palin with an IQ which doesn’t start with a decimal point.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    Trump is a feature, not a bug.
    He is the personification of what the Republican Party has become. Stupid. Obnoxious. In the end, pointless.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: Actually, if I were Jewish, I’d be a bit uneasy about how quickly the Trumpmanics have glommed together with the White Power crowd. AIPAC may think that they’re golden because they’ve got the Christian Identity freaks on their side, but I wouldn’t trust that. As soon as the Trumpmanics can, they’ll dump you in the fire as well.

    Paranoids never give up their conspiracy theories. It’s too suitable. Like the “women are bitchez” dude who never bothers to notice that the common factor in all his failed romantic relationships is himself.

  11. Tyrell says:

    Trump, Sanders, and Carson – support grows. It may well be that it is entirely possible that the main reason could be the economy and security, not immigration or emails. People are worried, apprehensive, cautious, and watchful. They are doubtful of government economic reports about growth and employment. They don’t see things that way at the ground level. The word “collapse” is whispered, rumored, and in the air. There is a lot of reminiscing, thinking of past eras, recalling grander times and great accomplishments. People feel something is not quite right, something is missing. They worry that things will not be as good for their children, and grandchildren. They don’t think the government is working for them, that it does not accomplish what it used to.

  12. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It may even call itself ‘Republican’ but ten years from now this Republican Party will be gone, dead of bile, stupidity, moral corruption and old age.

    Ten years ago, John Kerry was getting swift-boated. I think it’s going to take at least a generation, but probably two or three.

    And that’s IF it happens.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    @Tyrell:
    So you want to elect a blowhard bullshit-filled grifter to return you to mythical times that really never existed?

  14. James Pearce says:

    @Tyrell:

    They don’t think the government is working for them, that it does not accomplish what it used to.

    And they think Donald Trump or Ben Carson is going to fix that?

    Maybe they should smarten up. You want a government to work for you? Don’t vote Republican.

  15. Deserttrek says:

    @al-Ameda: but when obama and the left promotes anti white racism that brings out the best in people

  16. Deserttrek says:

    @dazedandconfused: nice to see the mysoginist bigots in full view ….. i am sure you knees are not tired from bowing to barry

  17. Tony W says:

    @Tyrell:

    There is a lot of reminiscing, thinking of past eras, recalling grander times and great accomplishments.

    Like back when Republican Eisenhower presided over the Interstate Highway System? Sorry dude, those Republicans are long gone.

    Republicans of today are the party of “America is not good enough to do anything”.

    Basic single-payer health care for all citizens? Nope, we’re not good enough (heck we passed the Republican plan a few years back and they’ve been complaining since!).

    Roads/Bridges failing all over the country? We can’t fix ’em – too expensive. Public Education? No money for that, we have wars to create & fight. Homelessness, mental health care, protection of our most vulnerable citizens, climate change/seas rising, reasonable gun regulations? On every issue they must be dragged along kicking and screaming like a three year old who just wants to play with their toy F35.

    What to do? Elect the opposition. Democrats are far from perfect, but Mr. Obama has proved you can get a lot done just by being a responsible adult and ignoring the tantrums.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Deserttrek:

    obama (sic) and the left promotes anti white racism

    Thank you. Thank you for the demonstration of how and why things got as bad as they are. You, and several million like you, have your heads so far up your..the conservative echo chamber you actually believe that utter nonsense.

  19. C. Clavin says:

    @Deserttrek:
    Anti-white racism???
    @Deserttrek:
    Mysoginist bigots???

    Psychological projection, much???

  20. Rafer Janders says:

    “Trump’s beliefs represent the consensus among the GOP electorate.”

    And there you go.

  21. dazedandconfused says:

    @Deserttrek:

    Don’t be so humorless. If you had read the OP you would have noticed the people being polled for these estimates of “Republican” support are more than half birthers.

  22. al-Ameda says:

    @Deserttrek:

    @al-Ameda: but when obama and the left promotes anti white racism that brings out the best in people

    Exactly what anti-white racist policies have been promoted by Obama and the left?
    I can think of none.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @Tyrell:

    As others have noted, Tyrell, the reason government isn’t working for you is because the Republican Party doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you. You’re just the sucker. They pander to your fears and your prejudices and they use the fear they create to manipulate and control you. You and the rest of the working class GOP have been played, simple as that. You’re rubes and you got played.

    They taught you to hate unions and you fell for it and when your incomes dropped or flatlined you didn’t understand why.

    They taught you that you needed to pay higher taxes than billionaires, and somehow that was going to help your life, and your life just kept getting worse and you couldn’t figure it out.

    They told you that it was somehow okay if, when you got sick, you also lost your job and went broke, and ended up living in a shelter while you got chemo. And all you dumb sons of bitches could not manage to see that you were just being played.

    You people were actually so dumb that for decades you got none of your social issues advanced and still you voted against your own economic interests. I mean, it does not get dumber than that. I don’t dislike you, Tyrell, but the reason the government is broke is dumbasses like you who can be conned by any fraud with some nice Jesus patter. You people let Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, billionaires and millionaires, program you. They just washed your little brains right out and filled them up with whatever b.s. happened to serve Uncle Rupert’s bank account. And you absolutely fell for it. Because you are just that dumb.

    Now, no one is trying to say Democrats are saints. We have plenty of soft corruption on our side, and plenty of cowardice, but say what you will, we actually do kind of give a sh!t about losers. We’re the ones who don’t think it’s okay for you to make too little to support a family. We’re the ones who don’t think just because you’re sick you should also be bankrupt. For whatever silly reason, we actually are different. We are not predators. We’re not out to screw anyone beyond the usual small-bore corruption previously mentioned.

    At our worse we’re never half as bad as the Republicans. They’ve treated you like garbage. They’ve treated you with contempt. Now, I happen to think you deserve that contempt, and yet, not being a Republican, I won’t actually lie to you and prey upon you. You’re stupid as hell, but unlike the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch, I actually kind of give a sh!t about you.

  24. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: The Republicans ceased being a political party with the failure of the Bush Administration. It’s a coalition of insurgent factions (corporate lobbyists, social regressives and neo-fascists) attempting to overthrow any semblance of democratic morals, ethics and ideals. Above all they despise the egalitarianism of the modern world and want to re-establish a strict socio-economic hierarchy with themselves at the top.

    The more frustrated in their efforts the more extreme they’ll become. We need to start thinking in terms of a potential organized white power terrorist movement funded by corporate America and protected by the religious Right.

  25. James Pearce says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    We need to start thinking in terms of a potential organized white power terrorist movement funded by corporate America and protected by the religious Right.

    In my darkest moments, I admit to thinking of them in this way.

    But I know too many conservatives to actually believe it.

  26. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds:

    we actually do kind of give a sh!t about losers.

    I think this is where the disconnect comes for people on the right. Since Saint Ayn has conditioned them to believe that “giving a sh!t about losers” is a sign of weakness and doesn’t really help the losers anyway, there is no sense in anything other than them being angry about the injustices that happen to themselves.

    The injustices that happens to others? Well, it sure sucks to be those people, but nothing we can do about it, eh?

  27. Robin Cohen says:

    Trump is a useless bloviator just like Christie. It would be better if they both dropped out along with all other candidates who really have nothing concrete to offer as solutions to our problems

  28. Ben Wolf says:

    @James Pearce: I don’t consider the sort we’re talking about conservatives in the philosophical/intellectual sense. Those people have been effectively exiled even if they still carry a Party membership card.

  29. LC says:

    It is literally insane that you, Doug, and Ben Domenech are JUST NOW noticing / acknowledging white identity politics. It has been all Fox News & the Republican party has done for the past 7 years, but now that its blowing up in your faces, clutch those pearls!!

  30. Scott says:

    We need to start thinking in terms of a potential organized white power terrorist movement funded by corporate America and protected by the religious Right.

    Put this in 1920s/30s Germany and you have the rise of the Nazis. German racial purity ideas funded by German oligarchs and protected by the Lutheran establishment. There you have it.

  31. Nick says:

    Trump represents the Rush Limaugh/Sean Hannity/Laura Ingraham wing of the Republican Party. They have been doing white identity politics for a looong time and are mainstream Republicans in every sense (audience size, political influence, etc.)

  32. stonetools says:

    Thanks for the article, Doug. It might be too soon, but you are really ought to think about the logical conclusion this article leads to if Trump becomes the nominee and you are faced with voting for or against him in November 2016.

  33. James Pearce says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I don’t consider the sort we’re talking about conservatives in the philosophical/intellectual sense.

    Well, sure, but we’re getting into “No True Conservative” territory. Just because you’re a Republican doesn’t mean you’ve read your Burke.

    I’m talking about people we encounter everyday, at work, at the grocery store, the gym, where ever. They’re not all white supremacists in thrall to corporate America and the religious right. They’re not liberals, that’s true, and will often oppose liberal policies for dumb, overly ideological reasons, but rather than being evil in supporting a political elite that is in thrall to corporate America and the religious right (donations, donations, donations) they’re, at worst, gullible.

    And I think they know it on some base level. With the Tea Party and Trump, I think there’s a sense among the right that they know they’ve been conned but they’re just too gullible to keep it from happening again.

  34. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Robin Cohen: If that happens, who will the GOP run? They’ve got to put someone up for office, donchanoe?

  35. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James Pearce: I agree with your thoughts on this point. There’s a lot of paper tiger-ness going on here in that cohort. I agree with the others that there are truly dangerous people in the cohort, too; I simply don’t know how numerous and powerful they actually are. We’d get a better impression if the GOP would jettison that element, but that’s not happening.

  36. Ken in NJ says:

    @James Pearce: “With the Tea Party and Trump, I think there’s a sense among the right that they know they’ve been conned but they’re just too gullible to keep it from happening again.”

    I would say Trump is more like the conman who shows up after a person has already been conned, pretending to be a LE type who needs the victims help in taking down the guys who just conned him.