Friday, May 27, 2016

Trump's Pivot to the Conspiratorial Left

The conventional wisdom is that, upon securing the GOP nomination, Donald Trump has to tack to the center. He can't expect to win over independents and undecided voters by the same sort of jingoistic, xenophobic, conspiratorial conservatism that carried him through the Republican primaries.

The conventional wisdom never really applied to Donald Trump, and so it perhaps is not surprising that we have seen no such adjustment as of yet. And the more I think about it, the more I'm doubtful that he will expend any substantial effort to moderate his image. Rather, the move for Donald Trump going forward is straightforward: Double-down on the conspiracy-mongering -- only now, tailor it to aggrieved Sanders voters.

Bernie voters have become more and more convinced that the only reason they lost is because Hillary Clinton and her cronies "rigged" the system. For whatever reason, they just cannot accept the fact that Hillary Clinton is winning because she's winning more votes, and the more Democratic voters there are participating, the better she does (compare caucus vs. primary states). Senator Sanders is, if anything, outperforming expectations, and that's credit to him tapping into real and genuine progressive sentiment that had hitherto lacked significant voice. But he lost for prosaic, democratic reasons -- more people preferred his competitor than him. It happens. It can be difficult to admit (and both the American left and right have a difficult time acknowledging that they do not perfectly and purely represent the outlook of "real Americans"), but that's the long and short of it.

Unfortunately, Trump's own brand of paranoid conspiracy-mongering -- the system's rigged, the media is biased, the establishment is corrupt -- is perfectly tailored to tap into the grievances of the Sanders electorate. Take a look at Trump's statement declining a California debate against Sanders:
“Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher,” Trump said in the statement. “Likewise, the networks want to make a killing on these events and are not proving to be too generous to charitable causes, in this case, women’s health issues. Therefore, as much as I want to debate Bernie Sanders – and it would be an easy payday – I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”
That is aimed at Bernie Sanders voters like a laser. "Totally rigged"! "Crooked Hillary Clinton"! The DWS reference, in particular, is a dogwhistle that independents couldn't care less about but Bernie voters are obsessed over. Trump doesn't want to debate Sanders. Trump wants to stand in for Sanders when the time comes for him to debate Hillary Clinton. Certainly, the ground has been prepared by the constant stream of HOT TAKE Salon articles presenting the "liberal case for Trump" and how Hillary is just too shady for pristine Bernie supporters to sully themselves with and at the very least just stay home.

The reason Trump can appeal to Sanders voters is that, for many of them, the issue is not a matter of a "progressive" challenge. The heart of Sanders' appeal is his attack on "politics as usual", and Donald Trump is if nothing else not "politics as usual." Sanders beats Clinton among conservative Democratic voters who dislike Obama; meanwhile, Clinton's actual policy proposals are perfectly progressive and probably a bit to the left of Obama's in 2008. Once we dispense with the fiction that Sanders voters support him because of some down-the-line desire for progressive policymaking as opposed to a more inchoate expression of ressentiment against those they identify with Power -- well, Trump has absolutely proven himself able to market himself very effectively to the latter camp.

There is obviously no path for Trump to victory on policy. And there's no path for Trump to victory on temperament. Trump's only path to victory is the same path that got him through the GOP nomination -- vitriolic, outrageous, rabble-rousing attacks on "the establishment" of which Hillary Clinton is now the prime representative. Many Sanders voters are primed to favor precisely those appeals. And the more the Sanders campaign goes down the route of insisting that the Democratic establishment rigged the system, the more his voters are going to find Donald Trump's message mighty appealing come fall.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is the first election in my lifetime where I hate both candidates (Trump and Clinton) with a passion.