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Who is demonstrating today? Start with: what happened in 2016?

April 22, 2020 am30 1:51 am

The state capital demonstrators, nuts, right?  Are these vast rightwing mobilizations in favor of infection? It would be wonderful if the right could only bring out such pitiful crowds. Paid agents of Fox? Hardly. Fox has the money to fake a decent-sized crowd. So who are they?

I think to get to the answer, we should start with another question. What happened in 2016?  Not in November, but from January through the Spring.

For four years I have asked the question. And the answers have been various, but all have been disappointing. Commonly Trump opponents will pivot to how horrible his supporters are, or how stupid they are, or how Hillary won the popular vote, or how awful his policies are, or he is personally. There is often an unnecessary glimmer of self-satisfaction. There are responses that explain how Trump is wrong, or how bad his policies are. There are arguments about running a better campaign, or combatting voter suppression.

But what happened?

The election of Trump was a big shift. There have been other shifts in the political landscape. I’m thinking of the election of Reagan in 1980. Reagan was the face of a conservative wave that was taking over the Republican Party. The two wings came into conflict, and the socially liberal northeastern Republicans were defeated, and marginalized. This was an internal battle in the party.

But in 2016, Republican primary voters rejected every traditional republican to vote for Trump. Trump was a businessman with no experience in politics. He held political positions at odds with post-Reagan traditional Republican positions. This was not one wing of the GOP overthrowing the other. This was part of the GOP’s base rejecting its entire leadership. The leadership survived, but only by pledging allegiance to the outsider who usurped the throne.

What part of the Republican movement, (“movement”, because as their presence in rallies on the streets showed, they are more than just an electorate) what part of the Republican movement threw Bush and Rubio and Cruz and Christie and Kasich overboard? Because I think a good answer to that question would go a long way to figuring out what’s happen with the “Open” rallies at the state capitals.

Just looking at who voted for Trump (Nate Silver) doesn’t address where his core support came from. In the UFT, we heard that – was it 25, 30% ? – of our members voted for him (I can’t remember which number, and I don’t trust it anyhow). But in any case, Mulgrew trusted it – so much so that he rarely utters Trump’s name, out of fear of alienating his UFT voters. He started right after the election. We should have asked, did McCain and Romney get the same vote? Because otherwise, we are talking about people who flipped from Obama to Trump in the UFT, and I’ve never met one of those. Have you?

Nah, if we want to get to Trump’s core, we are not looking for UFT members. Instead, think of the early Trump rallies. You could probably think of the later ones too. The crowd was white, outer suburbs more than inner suburbs. Lots of flag symbolism, and those MAGA hats. There were no bankers, no bankers’ friends and families. These were Republicans not doing what their leaders wanted them to do.

A fascinating paper out of NYU tries to ask the question I’m driving at. Manza and Crowley find that Trump’s support, and this at the core of his vote, was less affluent than that of other Republicans, but more affluent then the country as a whole. They find it not a working class vote, but a vote of those who personally felt economic insecurity (and were white, of course).

Who are we talking about? Small business owners. Very small businesses. Perhaps some worked a regular job, as well. Or some may have once had businesses, and now did not. Screwed by the 2005 bankruptcy law, although they did not realize it until the 2008 crisis, when bankruptcies occurred in huge numbers, and being bankrupt was bad, but small and bankrupt was horrible. The bill added a means test for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and raised filing fees from about $600 to $2500. That’s for someone going into bankruptcy to pay? Chapter 13, the alternative, let’s creditors go after future assets, not just what you have when you declare.

By the way, the bill also encouraged predatory student lending policies. And it was strongly pushed by the credit card companies. Their benefactor was so desperate to get it passed, he once inserted it in a foreign relations bill.  One guess who the culprit was (or you can read all about it, here).

So there we had a ready audience for Trump – and I don’t think even he knew it was going to be there. Angry, xenophobic, with a populist anti-big business tinge. Resentful. They had a little money, but had been voting for people with a lot more money. Angry enough to throw them out. (Little irony, they backed a rich guy to do it).And yeah, angry enough to vote for a guy who may not have shared their valued. But he knew when they responded, that he had his message. Build the Wall. Insult people. Red MAGA hats.

During the primaries, they had a love affair, Trump and this crowd. And during the general. And he kept them revved up. But in DC, he started accommodating some of the old Republican leadership. And even more so, they accommodated him. Everyone in the GOP, today, at least on the surface, is a Trump loyalist. But today’s Trump may be as vile as the one from the campaign trail, but remember that Wall? The trade deals?  He’s not the same.

(An aside – what happened to the traditional Republicans?  Not from 1972, but from 2000, conservative, racist, anti-gay, misogynist, interventionist, deep in big-business’ pocket?  Just a guess:  I think they are all still there. They’ve brought Trump towards their positions. And they are, I believe, just waiting for the chance to reclaim their party, sinister plotters looking to remove this disgusting oaf who they did not invite, or to wait him out.)

And now, fast forward. Who is going to the capitals, and why?  Small businessmen. White. Don’t want the government to shut their businesses. Worried about going broke. This is a piece of Trump’s original core. But there’s not so many, are there? These are not the tools of powerful rightwing groups. These are the tail that once wagged the dog. These are the soldiers who overthrew the leadership of one of the two major political parties. They just don’t seem so powerful today.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. shawn rubel permalink
    April 22, 2020 am30 8:43 am 8:43 am

    i’m enjoying your blog. hope you are well. your concluding sentence. where’s that come from b/c frankly i still think trump has a shot at being reelected. for most of his presidency i was convinced he’d win again alas. then biden had his upsurge and i thought maybe this could continue and so i was a little less convinced but still thought T would beat B, then covid happened and …

    … and now it is a whole new world, but Trump is in many ways using it to his advantage. while biden has been no where. covid has led to biden losing all momentum. so a big thing will be–when can we get back to a “new normal” a normal where people can get out their an campaign. b/c biden needs to be out there.

    i see nothing to indicate that “they” seem less powerful. it is simply that Trump has been wounded by covid. but he’s remarkable in that nothing sticks to him. nothing. and he has plenty of time to brush off covid. don’t be so sure he won’t win again.

    finally, that last sentence worries me b/c it feels like their is an undercurrent of complacency. and to beat Trump we can’t be complacent. what went on in WI, where more people voted than they could have imagined, where more people put their lives on the line than expected, has to happen again.

    stay safe/sane

    thinking of you


  2. April 22, 2020 am30 10:23 am 10:23 am

    Trump remains erratic and dangerous, but that groupe – the one I describe – the one that defected from the Republican leadership to force Trump on them – that group today is not able to mobilize much support. Doesn’t mean they can’t again.

    By the way, I don’t think they won November 2016 for him – they were a part – and as shocking as that was – I think they were crucial in the primaries, where they pushed aside the party’s traditional leadership – and that was not only shocking – I don’t think there’s any comparable moment in US history.

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