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This piece was posted at Political News Items earlier today. It’s posted here to enable non-subscribers to read it. You can subscribe to Political News Items (14 days free!) by clicking on this link. You can visit our website at news-items.com.
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It didn’t get much coverage, but last week’s Fox News Poll perfectly captured the state of the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination with one remarkable data point. To wit: “Only 13% of GOP primary voters say they would never vote for Donald Trump.”
The Republican Party remains the Donald Trump Party, ceaseless purge attempts by “party elders,” major donors and mainstream media to the contrary. Lest anyone doubt the assertion, look no further than Mr. Trump’s rally in Pickens, South Carolina on Saturday. Fifty thousand people showed up; twice the seating capacity of Madison Square Garden. How big a crowd do you suppose Gov. Ron DeSantis could attract in Pickens, South Carolina on a sweltering hot Saturday afternoon of a holiday weekend? The question is the answer.
There are three parts to the Republican primary/caucus-attending electorate. Part one is suburban. Part two is exurban. Part three is rural. There aren’t any Republican primary voters to speak of in urban areas, which is why they’re not included in a “map” of the GOP primary/caucus-attending electorate.
Part one (suburbia) is where Trump is at least theoretically vulnerable. Part two (exurbia) is where Trump is strong but not invulnerable. Part three (rural) is where Trump is basically invulnerable.
This “map” of the GOP primary/caucus-attending electorate is (obviously) over-simplified and, to some degree, over-stated. But the key to understanding American politics is not how much money people have or how educated they are or how much social media they consume…..it’s where they live that matters most. The codes by which people live in the four geographic “divisions” are distinct (more or less) and produce sharply different views of the world at large.
The reason Trump’s support has never wavered since he lost the 2020 presidential election is that his support in rural and exurban America has never wavered. Indictments have been handed down, allegations of wrong-doing have surfaced (a lot of them), countless crazy rants have been posted (by Trump) on social media in the wee hours, Trump-endorsed candidates have lost key races…….you know the litany. It goes on and on (and on).
Through it all, Trump’s Jacksonian, rural-exurban base has remained loyal. And the more Trump comes under attack, be it from the mainstream media or the Biden Justice Department, Ron DeSantis or Chris Christie, the stronger that loyalty holds fast. Each and every attacker is running headlong into a central tenet of Jacksonian America, which says you never cut and run on one of your own.
Walter Mead, in an essay in Foreign Affairs, described the politics underlying Trump’s rise and enduring appeal as follows:
The distinctively American populism Trump espouses is rooted in the thought and culture of the country’s first populist president, Andrew Jackson. For Jacksonians — who formed the core of Trump’s passionately supportive base — the United States is not a political entity created and defined by a set of intellectual propositions rooted in the Enlightenment and oriented toward the fulfillment of a universal mission. Rather, it is the nation-state of the American people, and its chief business lies at home. Jacksonians see American exceptionalism not as a function of the universal appeal of American ideas, or even as a function of a unique American vocation to transform the world, but rather as rooted in the country’s singular commitment to the equality and dignity of individual American citizens. The role of the U.S. government, Jacksonians believe, is to fulfill the country’s destiny by looking after the physical security and economic well-being of the American people in their national home — and to do that while interfering as little as possible with the individual freedom that makes the country unique.
Jacksonian populism is only intermittently concerned with foreign policy, and indeed it is only intermittently engaged with politics more generally. It took a particular combination of forces and trends to mobilize it this (2016) election cycle, and most of those were domestically focused. In seeking to explain the Jacksonian surge, commentators have looked to factors such as wage stagnation, the loss of good jobs for unskilled workers, the hollowing out of civic life, a rise in drug use — conditions many associate with life in blighted inner cities that have spread across much of the country. But this is a partial and incomplete view. Identity and culture have historically played a major role in American politics, and 2016 was no exception. Jacksonian America felt itself to be under siege, with its values under attack and its future under threat. Trump — flawed as many Jacksonians themselves believed him to be — seemed the only candidate willing to help fight for its survival.
That’s how Trump is perceived in rural and exurban America — the only candidate willing to help fight for the survival of Jacksonian America. At his rallies, Trump pays homage to Jacksonians. When he comes out on stage, he does not bask in their adoration. He walks back and forth across the stage……and, clapping his hands, applauds them — the general saluting the troops. It’s brilliant stagecraft, and greatly appreciated. No politician has ever applauded them before.
There has been much huffing and puffing in the mainstream media and the tonier precincts of conservative politics about “taking Trump on directly” and “ripping the bark off him.” Part of why Trump rolls along, the thinking goes, is that he is allowed to do so by his GOP opponents. Put another way, he can’t be beat if he’s not beaten up.
This is why Chris Christie gets favorable press for “scorching” Trump in press interviews and TV town halls and why Ron DeSantis gets some good ink when he alludes to Trumpian malfeasance or incompetence. This is also why neither Chris Christie nor Ron DeSantis will ever see an audience of 50,000 people in front of them.
To be clear, Trump’s “base” is not wedded to Trump. Like every other “voting bloc,” it is open to suggestions. And it’s as transactional and pragmatic as the next constituency. Take away their Social Security and Medicare and watch your poll numbers collapse. But beneath their transactional concerns lies a code, which compels certain behaviors. And the most important of those “behaviors” are loyalty and respect.
Trump voters won’t consent to his political funeral until they hear the eulogy first. This seems obvious on its face but it’s remarkable (if not amazing) that Trump’s opponents don’t seem to understand that the first step toward defeating Trump is to honor him. Asserting that Trump is some kind of transexual pervert enabler, as a DeSantis video recently did, is so unbelievably stupid it takes your breath away.
“The amazing thing about Trump,” former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes once said, after Trump’s election in 2016, “is…..he just keeps going.” If the other Republicans can’t figure out a eulogy strategy, Trump will go on to become the party’s presidential nominee for the third time in three cycles. Jacksonian America endures. Trump endures as a result.