25 January 2016

Trump supporters are new and unknown


Donald Trump supporters are an enigma to most “Establishment” Republicans — those working in politics for a living. Despite the fact that the candidate is polling between 30 and 40 percent in most surveys of the GOP nominating contest, few who work in politics professionally know a single Donald Trump voter. In the Washington Examiner, Byron York interviewed several of New Hampshire’s top Republican operatives and even the former governor, and found that they were all at a loss to explain the candidate’s popularity in a state which takes seriously its job as the first primary state.

Who are these mysterious supporters and why are they so energized about a candidate who the flagship conservative magazine National Review is so committed to defeating that they published a special issue called Against Trump?

In the Examiner York explained that most of the New Hampshire lawns which currently display a Trump sign have never been engaged enough in the GOP process to display a sign for any previous candidate. What makes Trump unique among the other candidates in either field is his outsider status in politics. Trump capitalizes on his record as a businessman (conveniently omitting his several bankruptcy filings) in order to prove to the American people that unlike his competition – mostly senators, governors and ex-governors — he is not a product of Washington.

There was a famous sketch on the Tonight Show when Jay Leno was hosting called ‘Jay Walking’ where Leno would interview passersby about current events. His subjects, young and old alike, were often unable to perform simple tasks like identifying the Vice President or finding Iraq on a map (while the U.S. was at war there), but could easily identify more obscure pop culture references.

While Trump may hold a strong lead in the Republican primaries now, few Republican voters are likely paying close attention to the race this early on. When they do start paying closer attention, historically we’ve seen the polls shift. At this point in 2004 and 2008, Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton were leading the polls, respectively, on the Democratic side. In 2008, McCain was leading the Republican field and in 2012 Newt Gingrich was ahead at this same point in the campaign.

While many, including Rod Dreher in the American Conservative credit Trump’s lead to the fact that his supporters are outside the NY-DC conservative beltway, he forgets that Trump is himself part of the same urban elite. Trump doesn’t even think highly of his own supporters. Over the weekend he was quoted joking that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and [he] wouldn’t lose voters.”

When Republican voters really start paying attention and Trump supporters take the time to see their candidate for what he is: a rich New York elitist, not a dark horse charging in to save the nation, it’s likely (or at least hopeful) their energy for engaging in the process will at best divert, or, at least, wane.

Bethany Mandel writes on politics and culture.