Thursday, November 5, 2020

Why the Establishment Keeps Underestimating Trump

Some thoughts on why Trump keeps doing better than mainstream pollsters and pundits think he should:

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review:

Trump is, for better or worse, the foremost symbol of resistance to the overwhelming woke cultural tide that has swept along the media, academia, corporate America, Hollywood, professional sports, the big foundations, and almost everything in between.

To put it in blunt terms, for many people, he’s the only middle finger available — to brandish against the people who’ve assumed they have the whip hand in American culture. This may not be a very good reason to vote for a president, and it doesn’t excuse Trump’s abysmal conduct and maladministration.

Michael Sandel, Harvard professor: 
Even though Joe Biden emphasized his working-class roots and sympathies, the Democratic Party continues to be more identified with professional elites and college-educated voters than with the blue-collar voters who once constituted its base. Even so epochal an event as a pandemic, bungled by Trump, did not change this.

Democrats need to ask themselves: Why do many working people embrace a plutocrat-populist whose policies do little to help them? Democrats need to address the sense of humiliation felt by working people who feel the economy has left them behind and that credentialed elites look down on them.

Emma Fitzsimmons on Republican resurgence in the NY suburbs:

While some Republican candidates sought to distance themselves from President Trump, whose popularity was thought to be waning, they still clung to a Trump-like law-and-order message.

They tied Democratic candidates to defunding the police and progressive radicalism in the party, a strategy that seemed to work in many parts of the nation, as Republicans sought to maintain control of the Senate and claw back some House seats. . . .

In particular, many Republican candidates centered their campaigns on accusations that Democrats were undermining public safety, with many citing a bail reform law passed by state lawmakers last year.

“There is a very fine line that separates Republican and Democratic voters in the suburbs, but it seems that bail reform and a general denouncement of law enforcement was the final straw in 2020,” Joseph Borelli, a Republican city councilman from Staten Island, said in an interview on Wednesday.

Indeed, in Central New York, Claudia Tenney, a former Republican congresswoman and close ally of Mr. Trump running to reclaim her seat, harped on that theme in an election night speech; she was leading against Mr. Brindisi, a moderate Democrat who narrowly upset her in 2018.

“We are going to stand up against socialism, against chaos, against looting,” she told her supporters on Tuesday night. “We’re going to defend our police.”

From a Washington Post story on the young black men voting for Trump. There is, first of all, a sense that for all its promises the Democratic establishment just hasn't delivered for black people, and you couldn't find a clearer contrast to the black establishment than Trump:

Trump supporters argue that a vote for Biden is just another vote for a Democrat who talks grandly of helping the Black community but fails to deliver.

I mean, if you grew up in Baltimore and saw one Democratic mayor after another indicted for corruption while nothing around you ever got better, why would you give the party your unqualified support? And then there is Trump's macho swagger, and the way he stands up so boldly to attacks: 

Williams, the comedian and actor, said some Black men are attracted to Trump’s defiance of his critics.

“Barack Obama, when he became president, he showed the world that no matter what color you are, you can become president,” Williams said. “But President Trump, he showed the world that you can be you. You can talk how you want to talk, walk how you want to walk. You don’t have to fit in a box and you can still be the president of the United States of America.”

I agree that Trump's ability to withstand a constant barrage of angry attacks and keep on fighting are a big part of his appeal. Americans love that narrative; think how many celebrity biographies and so on start with "they all tried to put me down but I kept on going and look at me now."

And don't forget that Trump's biggest supporters are evangelical Christians, some of whom admit he is a scumbag but are terrified that liberals are coming for them. This is Rod Dreher a few years ago, explaining why he believed every word Michael Cohen said about Trump but planned to vote for Trump anyway:

The Republicans on the Committee are ripping into Cohen hard on his credibility, or lack thereof. It’s interesting to consider that the Republicans are attacking Cohen for being a scum-sucker for the things he did during the years he was working for Trump. It is certainly true: Michael Cohen is a sleaze. He essentially admits it in testimony, says he’s going to jail, and deserves to. You can say: Why should we believe him now?

Well, read his testimony. It’s 100 percent believable, 100 percent consonant with what we know about Donald Trump’s character. Seriously, read the testimony. Say with a straight face that that doesn’t sound like the Donald we know. Seriously. Come on.

So, you are asking, how could you possibly vote for a man like Trump? The answer is: the moral and political cost of giving power to the other side is even greater. You know why I say that; I’m not going to go into it any further here. We talk about this in some form all the time. It is possible that everything Michael Cohen says today is 100 percent true, and it is still a more moral choice to vote for this immoral man, Trump, rather than for a leader of the party of infanticide, left-wing identity politics, and the rest.

And of course race. Tom Friedman:

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by the middle of this year, nonwhites will constitute a majority of the nation’s 74 million children. And it is estimated that by sometime in the 2040s, whites will make up 49 percent of the U.S. population, and Latinos, Blacks, Asians and multiracial populations 51 percent.

Among many whites, particularly white working-class males without college degrees, there is clearly a discomfort with the fact, and even a resistance to it, that our nation is in a steady process of becoming “minority white.” They see Trump as a bulwark against the social, cultural and economic implications of that change.

What many Democrats see as a good trend — a country reckoning with structural racism and learning to embrace and celebrate increasing diversity — many white people see as a fundamental cultural threat.

The liberal establishment has gotten wrapped up in a narrative of openness, internationalism, sexual tolerance, anti-racism, and the moral superiority of all of this. But many people are not on board with any of this, and simply pretending that everyone agrees with it, to the point of "de-platforming" contrary voices, is not helping the cause.


David said...

You seem to be suggesting that there's some magical sweet spot liberals can find where more voters will like them. The sweet spot will somehow involve being . . . what? Openness, internationalism, anti-racism . . . those ARE the cause. I don't think it's really viable for liberals to somehow quiet their own nature and look to calibrate that just enough, inch by inch, until they reach the magic tipping point and become more likable to the white working class.

The divide in this country is about fundamentals. Those fundamental differences have been a long time a-borning, and they won't go away just because of slight changes in style or a bit of consciously-applied reticence.

I mean, Rod Dreher? He and I truly, madly, deeply do NOT want the same things. The same could be said of me and anyone who thinks banning chokeholds is the equivalent of anarchy, or that raising income taxes is an act of totalitarian oppression. What could I say to make them think that what I want is okay? And if I did hit on just the right words, it wouldn't last.

I would say the same to any liberals inclined to blame our situation on Koch money or Fox or whatever. Those powers are succeeding, to the extent they are, because they are telling close to half the country what it wants to hear.

Truly, I don't think there's any formula that gets us across or past this divide.

Shadow said...

If you hate the other side, then you're stuck with whatever shit head your side gives you.

John said...

I don't necessarily agree with any of those observations, I was just throwing out a sample I found of the reasons people support Trump. I certainly don't want liberal politicians to attract the votes of aggressive young men through macho posturing.

No, we're not going to agree.

But I think there are ways we can make things better despite it. Big city police departments are an opportunity, since they mostly work for liberal governments. I have written here about the programs that send EMTs and social workers to respond to some police calls, which seem to be working. That's the model I'm looking for; how can we advance our goals (less police violence without encouraging crime, say) in ways that work?

And we are very much going to have to find some accommodation between conservative churches and gay rights, whatever that accommodation turns out to be. Activists on both sides simply can't have all they want, because what they want is for the other side to disappear.

I simply don't think that denouncing each other helps. Or rather I think it helps the Donald J. Trumps of the world, who want to ride a wave of anger into power.

G. Verloren said...

That's the model I'm looking for; how can we advance our goals (less police violence without encouraging crime, say) in ways that work?

It'd be a hell of a lot easier if we weren't constantly being opposed and sabotaged by the conservatives. The amount of filibustering and political game-playing they do to impede basically anything their rivals try to attempt is staggering.

To use your example, in order to send EMTs and social workers to respond to certain issues instead of the police, we need to FUND those people. But in order to fund them, you need to either defund something else, or raise taxes, and unless the thing you are defunding is some sort of social program to help the poor and disenfranchised, conservatives aren't going to accept either of those outcomes, and will fight tooth and claw to oppose them.

"Activists on both sides simply can't have all they want, because what they want is for the other side to disappear."

This sounds so far removed from reality I struggle to know how to begin responding.

Liberals aren't trying to make anyone disappear - liberals just want the standing policy to be "live and let live". You bring up conservative churches and gay right, and argue that there needs to be some sort of "accommodation", but what POSSIBLE accommodation or compromise is even theoretically possible?

* Liberals want equality under the law for everyone - for homosexuals to have the same legal rights to marriage that anyone else would have.

* Conservatives want inequality under the law. They want homosexuals to be denied the rights they themselves enjoy.

How can you POSSIBLY find a way to accommodate that? There's no middle ground! There's no possible room for compromise! Either we have equal protection under the law, a foundational principle of our entire nation, or we don't.

Compromise would be possible if there was literally any other aspect to the issue to debate, but there simply isn't. If it was a question of conservative churches wanting the right not to perform marriages they don't agree with, we could compromise by granting them that right - except we already did; that's a right they already have, and no one is suggesting it be taken away!

See, that's the problem with the conservative viewpoint - they aren't fighting for their own rights, they are only fighting to strip rights away from people they don't like! And that goes against the fundamental principles of the nation! They don't simply want the right to be intolerant - they want their intolerance to be mandated by the state, and conformity to their way of thinking enforced by the power of law!

The liberal argument is that conservative churches don't have to like homosexual marriage, and don't have to perform services for marriages they don't approve of, but they have to respect equality under the law, and it has to be possible for homosexuals to obtain the same legal benefits of marriage as anyone else.

The conservative argument is that they don't agree with homosexual marriage on religious grounds, and so they want the laws to enforce their doctrinal views on everyone regardless of differences in faith, violating both separation of church and stand and equality under the law.

It's not enough for them that they have the right to have nothing to do with homosexual marriages which in no way affect them whatsoever - they are unwilling to live and let live, and instead fight to deprive others of the rights they themselves enjoy, on the basis of religious discrimination.

So please, enlighten me - what POSSIBLE compromise or accommodation can even theoretically exist in that context? How can we meet them halfway when they only have a single (unreasonable) demand, and acquiescing to it would mean total submission to their whims? That's not a compromise, that's unconditional surrender.

John said...

Kevin Drum points out that given how close the race is, Trump would almost surely have won without the pandemic. America has not "rejected" him or his policies in any sort of emphatic way.

David said...


I think that's right, America hasn't rejected Trump. Still less has it rejected the Republicans. I found the election results absolutely devastating, in fact. A near majority of the country is either not troubled by race-baiting, police brutality, and inhumanity to immigrants, or supports these things. A significant portion of the country doesn’t care or in fact approves of a foreign policy that is friendlier to dictators than to other democracies. Many people either don't mind or admire a bullying, dishonest, and corrupt president. I've never felt so alienated from so many of my fellow Americans. My inclination at this point is simply not to give a damn.

G. Verloren said...

A near majority of the country is either not troubled by race-baiting, police brutality, and inhumanity to immigrants, or supports these things.

This fails to account for the fact that only around 60% of eligible Americans vote. A "near-majority" of 60% is less than 30%, which is a clear minority overall.

There are millions of Americans who feel like their votes simply don't count - in many cases, they're 100% correct. Many states are overwhelmingly partisan, which means anyone with a minority party affiliation in such states has no realistic say on what happens.

The electoral college robs many millions of Americans of their right to choose, and gives that power instead to their political rivals. It is not only monstrously unjust, it's also unsustainable. We MUST reform how we represent our populace, because it's not just a feeling that many Americans have no voice - it's hard fact.

We need a system that truly represents the actual will of the people. We need proportional representation, rather than winner takes all. We need a party that is supported by 49% of the population to receive 49% of the political power, not have their votes count toward their opponents, meaning they receive 0% while the 51% majority receive 100%.

And if that means overhauling the Electoral College, or even Congress, we can't be afraid to make such sweeping changes. Because right now, our system is broken. Right now, countless people have little to no faith in our country, because it operates through unfair and unjust means, for no apparent reason other than tradition.

We need more granularity in our votes. Instead of rounding election results to 1 - 0, it needs to be possible to achieve 0.51 - 0.49 as a result.

G. Verloren said...

"It is possible that everything Michael Cohen says today is 100 percent true, and it is still a more moral choice to vote for this immoral man, Trump, rather than for a leader of the party of infanticide, left-wing identity politics, and the rest."

This is what boggles my mind. The things that qualify as "a moral crisis" for conservative are utterly insane.

These people worry more about how other people self-identify and who gets to use which public bathrooms, than they do about filling the most powerful governmental office in the country with a pathological liar, thief, conman, and incompetent, who is wholly unfit for office.

They feel it's an absolute moral imperative that women be stripped of the reproductive rights they've held for nearly half a century on the basis of "the sanctity of life", but then throw their support behind all sorts of other positions which flatly contradict that supposed sanctity.

If life is so sacred to these people, then how the hell do they justify being pro-military and pro-war? How can they support capital punishment? How can they turn a blind eye to police brutality and murder? How are they able to be so callous about mass shootings, and so against stricter gun controls to save lives?

If life is so sacred to these people, then why are they so staunchly against universal healthcare? Why do they not want to spend money to fight poverty and homelessness? Why don't they see the importance of protecting the environment? Why can't they understand the need for life-saving pandemic counter-measures like lockdowns and mask mandates?

Isn't it convenient that "the sanctity of life" only applies when conservatives want it to? It's amazing how flexible their principles are!


These are the people who fully supported abducting children and putting them in cages to punish their innocent parents for LEGALLY attempting to apply for asylum; and they have the gall to turn around and oppose abortion as "infanticide"?!?

These are the people who consistently have some of the highest rates of divorce, adultery, and domestic violence against their spouses, and they to allege that allowing homosexual marriage somehow undermines "the sanctity of marriage"?

These people are hypocrites of the highest order, whose supposed "morals" only seem to apply to when they want them to apply - namely, when they affect other people, rather than themselves.

Shadow said...

Just a couple of points.

1. While dems and pubs hate each other at the national level, they find a way to work together at the state level. This is because at the state level things must get done -- budgets must get balanced, schools must educate children, police must enforce the laws, fire departments must put out fires, animal control must pick carcasses up off roads, and the state Department of Transportation must fill potholes. Maybe the problem at the federal level is there isn't anything so important that it can't be postponed until it becomes someone else's problem. Maybe all the real work is done by the states, and national politics are just theater.

2. Blame wacky rightists all you want, performance by democrats in this election has been abysmal. After all Trump did these last four years, and after how the republicans refused to approve a very much needed stimulus package, and after a republican controlled government failed miserably at controlling a pandemic, democrats should have made huge gains. Instead Trump almost won, republicans picked up seats in the House, and republicans will likely retain control of the senate. How is this explained? Perhaps what democrats are selling too many people aren't buying?

David said...


1. Dems and pubs are working together in some states, notably MA and MD. But in other states, notably WI and NC, the relationship is extremely hostile. In both the mentioned states, GOP legislatures weakened the governor's power after a Democrat won the governor's election. Likewise, the GOP-controlled government of FL circumvented the will of the voters in restoring the franchise for felons by requiring felons to pay all fines and, my memory is, court costs, before they can get back their right to vote. Examples could be multiplied. I'm sure conservatives have their pet state-level grievances too.

2. No question, liberals simply can't close the deal with more than a bare half the public, and if they couldn't do it in the current circumstances, they're probably never going to. The problem is deeper than the annoyance of the far left, critical race studies, wokeness, and the other usual suspects. I say this as a lifelong liberal. It's why I found the election so devastating. I'm not at all inclined to change my ideas or allegiances. But I do accept that this election was a signal, perhaps crippling, defeat.

David said...

As a hypothesis, I would offer that the real problem is Democrats are seen as the party of higher taxes and not letting business do whatever it wants. And that's exactly right, that is what liberals stand for. I would add that, for me, higher taxes and restrictions on business are two key points of good government. But much of the public is never going to vote for either of those things, unless we get another Great Depression or similar crisis--and even then I'm not sure they would.

Shadow said...

They weakened the governor's powers in NC too. I think the hatred comes from culture wars, and not the more traditional tax and regulate policies. I think the culture wars are the impassable hurdle. Maryland does well, no doubt about it. Larry Hogan is a reelected republican governor in a very liberal state.

Shadow said...

Whoop, you mentioned NC. My bad.

David said...


I would agree the hatred comes from the culture wars. But I also suspect (although I cannot prove) that the culture wars, plus partisan loyalty and other things, would have only won Trump, say, 40% of the vote. But Democrats will never get that 40%, who hate the Dems for things deeper and older than annoyances like critical race theory. I think that extra 9% or so that really means the Dems can't win a voting majority comes from people who don't care about such things and don't pay much attention to them. I think economic concerns also explain the broader failure to enact a lot of liberal reforms like the California referenda, as well as the tendency for the Dems to become the party that supports gay marriage but not the rights of gig workers.