[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]
The above photo, of Donald Trump’s rally in Mobile on Friday, is making the rounds on social media. It’s a breathtaking image. Laleh Khalili of the University of London-SOAS, sharing the photo on Facebook, thus commented: “I pray to god that this picture is real, not pieced together, as it needs to hang in a gallery for conveying an utterly horrifying mood, a moment of terror, in these super-saturated colours and its manic absurdity.” Laurie King of Georgetown U. added: “If Norman Rockwell came back from the dead, smoked some crack, and had some Southern Comfort on the rocks with Coca Cola, this is what he’d paint.”
As we know, Trump has no chance whatever of being the GOP nominee, let alone POTUS. Of course not. No way. But then, crazier things have happened in the history of the world… Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, who incarnates a serious, level-headed, centrist/center-right leaning sensibility that has all but disappeared from the Republican party (it’s striking he’s still at AEI), has a piece in The Atlantic (August 21st) in which he wonders if “Maybe this time is really different.” The lede: “Historical precedents augur against Donald Trump—but perhaps the old rules no longer apply.” Ornstein knows American politics—and particularly the US Congress—better than just about anyone, so his analyses are to be taken seriously. Money quote
…I am more skeptical of the usual historical skepticism [in regard to the staying power of insurgent populist candidacies like Trump’s] than I have been in a long time. A part of my skepticism flows from my decades inside the belly of the congressional beast. I have seen the Republican Party go from being a center-right party, with a solid minority of true centrists, to a right-right party, with a dwindling share of center-rightists, to a right-radical party, with no centrists in the House and a handful in the Senate. There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts. And I have seen a GOP Congress in which the establishment, itself very conservative, has lost the battle to co-opt the Tea Party radicals, and itself has been largely co-opted or, at minimum, cowed by them.
As the congressional party has transformed, so has the activist component of the party outside Washington. In state legislatures, state party apparatuses, and state party platforms, there are regular statements or positions that make the most extreme lawmakers in Washington seem mild.
Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle.
Of course, this phenomenon is not new in 2015. It was there in 1964, building over decades in which insurgent conservative forces led by Robert Taft were repeatedly thwarted by moderates like Tom Dewey and Wendell Wilkie, until they prevailed behind the banner of Barry Goldwater. It was present in 1976, when insurgent conservative Ronald Reagan almost knocked off Gerald Ford before prevailing in 1980 (and then governing more as a pragmatist than an ideologue). It built to 1994, when Newt Gingrich led a huge class of insurgents to victory in mid-term elections, but then they had to accept pragmatist-establishment leader Bob Dole as their presidential candidate in 1996. And while John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 were establishment figures, each had to veer sharply to the radical right side to win nominations; McCain, facing a possible revolt at his nominating convention if he went with his first choice for running mate, Joe Lieberman, instead bowed to the new right and picked Sarah Palin.
So is anything really different this time? I think so. (…)
To read Ornstein’s analysis—in which he does not exclude the possibility that Trump could make it to the GOP convention in Cleveland next July and with a sizable contingent of delegates—go here.
This is neither here nor there but Maureen Dowd, whose perspectives I give rather less weight to than Norm Ornstein’s, has a column in today’s NYT on (surprise!) Trump, in which (surprise!) she takes note of his full head of presumably natural blond hair. This immediately brought to mind this well-known blond French politico—whom Trump resembles in a number of respects, politically and personally—who, like Trump, remained a (presumably) natural blond into his 70s. Just saying.
Some GOP politicians and right-wing commentators have tried to establish a symmetry between Trump and Bernie Sanders, with the latter being the Democratic party mirror image of the former, if not even more of a political outlier on account of his self-proclaimed “socialism.” I’m sorry but that won’t fly. Bernie’s attachment to the socialist label is folklore, signifying nothing in concrete reality. Bernie’s “socialism” is Western European/Canadian-style social democracy; in America he’s on the left-wing of the Democratic party (though with some exceptions, notably on gun control; and, pour mémoire, he has always run for office as an independent and not a Democrat, which is one reason, among others, as to why he has zero chance of being the Democratic party’s presidential nominee). In his rhetoric, Bernie has been eminently sensible. And his announcement last week that he will introduce legislation to abolish privately owned prisons is the smartest, most sensible policy proposal I’ve heard during this campaign season. When it comes to policy and general seriousness, between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders il n’y a pas photo…
UPDATE: Two articles on Trump’s supporters, one in the NYT (August 22nd), “Why Donald Trump won’t fold: Polls and people speak,” another on Reuters’ The Great Debate blog (August 23rd), “Strange bedfellows: Donald Trump and the white working class,” this one by George Mason U. public policy prof Justin Gest. It is striking how the Trump base, as it were, is almost identical to that of Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Front National over the years, politically and sociologically.
Politico reporter Ben Schreckinger has a “A tale of two rallies: My summer with Bernie and Trump” (August 23rd). The lede: “One is a political revolution with a mellow vibe. The other feels more like a professional wrestling match.” No need to say which is which. The Bernie and Trump phenomenons, though reflecting a similar frustration of many voters with established politicians, are quite different, as are the two candidates, obviously.
2nd UPDATE: Reinforcing the parallel of Trump, Le Pen, and their respective supporters is Evan Osnos’s lengthy, must-read article in the August 31st issue of The New Yorker, “The fearful and the frustrated.” The lede: “Donald Trump’s nationalist coalition takes shape—for now.”
3rd UPDATE: Cas Mudde of the University of Georgia, who specializes in European populist movements, has a post (August 26th) on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on “The Trump phenomenon and the European populist radical right.” Mudde notes the American specificities of Trump as politician—of some differences between The Donald and European right-wing populist personalities—but observes, as do I, the close similarities of their respective political bases
Contrary to the man (Trump) and the ideology (Trumpism), the supporter of Trump (the Trumpista) is almost identical to the populist radical right voter in (Western) Europe. First studies show that Trump is particularly popular among young, lower educated, white males. This is exactly the same group that constitutes the core of the electorate of populist radical right parties in Western Europe. The gender gap is particularly striking. Just as European populist radical right parties have a much larger gender gap than mainstream right-wing parties, attracting roughly two men for every one woman, Trump has the largest gender gap among the GOP candidates, particularly among likely Republican primary voters.
A clarification on one thing Mudde says
However, [Trump’s] general views on immigration and integration are much more in line with U.S. conservatives than with European far right. For instance, Trump singles out illegal immigration and does not attack the status of the U.S. as a multicultural immigration country. And while he has been speaking about “the Muslim problem” at least since 2011, he is much more nuanced in his views of Islam and Muslims than people like Marine Le Pen and, certainly, Geert Wilders. In fact, his views on Muslims really don’t stand out much from many other prominent Republicans – a majority of the main candidates in the 2012 GOP primary made Islamophobic statements.
Setting the record straight in regard to the French FN, its anti-Islam rhetoric is a recent phenomenon, dating from Marine Le Pen’s assumption of the party leadership in 2011. Jean-Marie Le Pen never targeted Islam or Muslims qua Muslims in his discourse. His fire was aimed at immigration from the former colonies, in particular the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. The Islamophobia in the FN in the 1980s and ’90s came specifically from the Mégret group, which quit the FN in the party’s 1998 split, forming the MNR (now moribund). As it happens, Marine LP’s anti-Islam rhetoric coincides with the reintegration of a certain number of Mégretistes into the FN (and in Marine’s inner circle).
4th UPDATE: Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has a spot on piece (August 28th) on how “The conservative establishment is in deep denial about Donald Trump’s appeal.” In a nutshell, the Trump phenomenon is showing up an important disconnect between the GOP elite and the party’s donor class, on the one hand, and the GOP rank-and-file, on the other. The latter is further to the right than the former on immigration but well to its left on the economy, notably on social insurance programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid. In short, regular Republican voters don’t care about the size of government.
There is a similar disconnect in the Democratic party, BTW, but that’s for another post.