Thursday, March 30, 2017

What Do Right-Leaning Populists Want?

Conor Fiedersdorf asks the question a lot of us have been wondering about. After the Tea Party supported a bunch of take-no-prisoners, make-no-compromises anti-government conservative extremists, the same people turned around and supported Trump.
Representative Thomas Massey, a Kentucky Republican, described his own realization that the GOP wasn’t what it seemed during the Tea Party’s rise in an interview with Reason.

Massey won his 2010 congressional bid by running on libertarian ideas. He watched Rand Paul win his Senate race with a similar platform, and saw Ron Paul do well in Iowa during the 2012 cycle. “So I thought the libertarian ideology within the Republican party was really catching on, that it was popular,” he said this week.

But then, when he went to Iowa to campaign for Rand Paul in the 2016 GOP primary, “I saw that the same people that had voted for Ron Paul weren't voting for Rand Paul, they were voting for Donald Trump … in Kentucky, the people who were my voters ended up voting for Donald Trump in the primary. And so I was in a funk because how could these people let us down? How could they go from being libertarian ideologues to voting for Donald Trump? And then I realized what it was: They weren't voting for the libertarian in the race, they were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race when they voted for me and Rand and Ron. So Trump just won, you know, that category, but dumped the ideological baggage.”

What he means by “crazy,” I think, is most stridently against the Washington establishment. That’s the similarity between Rand Paul in 2010 and Donald Trump in 2016.
I think there is something to this: the right-wing populist vote is largely a vote against political insiders and educated elitists. But it is also a vote for something, which I would describe as a tribal vote: it is a vote for us as much as against them. It is a vote for the values, concerns and power of ordinary white folks unhappy with the progressive agenda and the globalizing economy. And that is why people get such a thrill when their guy wins the election; because they see it as the nation endorsing who they are.

So, yes, the voters do not seem to care much about libertarian ideology, and they have only vague ideas about how they want the government to help them. They care about having their people in power, to stand up for people like them, whatever that turns out to mean.

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