Sunday, December 06, 2015

Can Trumpf Really Win? Or, Conversely, Can Trumpf Really Lose? Have We Ever Elected A Demagogue President?


OK, so this is the more involved second half of the post from 10 am-- slightly more abstract and something I'd suggest the Trumpf fans not bother trying to grapple with. We're going to do a little mashup of Aaron Zitner at the Wall Street Journal, Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman at the NY Times and Sean McElwee at Salon. Don't freakout if you never heard of McElwee; he's the research-oriented guy and his Salon piece is something I want to use to bolster my long-held believe that the only thing that might actually stop Herr Trumpf has nothing to do with the lame hopes the GOP establishment keeps floating. If Trumpf loses it won't because he finally says something so dumb and offensive that his dumb and offensive supporters find it too dumb and offensive. To life's losers-- the Trumpf core-- there is nothing too dumb or too offensive to make them vote for anyone else. The chances of them switching to Jeb or Kasich or Christie or Rubio are about as good as them switching to Hillary; it's not going to happen. The question, though, is will they vote for Trumpf? His fans are reality TV viewers, not actual voters. If he can get them to the polls, he'll be the nominee; if not... get ready for an even worse nightmare for the GOP DC establishment: Ted Cruz. This morning on CNN's State of the Union John Kasich speculated that Trumpf's supporters won't even show up to vote in the primaries.

And that brings us to the research by Brian Schaffner and Stephen Ansolabehere that McElwee delved into yesterday. They found that "only 25 percent of Americans voted in all four elections between 2006 and 2012. These Americans, who are disproportionately white, rich and old, have dramatically more influence over politics than nonvoters (who make up 37 percent of the population)." In other words, "far more people voted in zero elections between 2006 and 2012 than voted in all four elections." About a quarter of the non-voters are non-voters because they're not registered and among those who only voted in presidential years, disliking the candidates, lack of information and busy-ness were the top reasons for not voting in midterm elections. This is interesting: "nonvoters were mostly either Independents (30 percent) or Democrats (43 percent). [So 27% Republican.] Presidential-only voters tilt the most strongly toward the Democrats, with 53 percent saying they are Democrats and only 32 percent identifying as Republican. [So 15% independent.]

The first solution to boosting turnout is clear: Registration barriers are the most important factor depressing turnout. Thus, robust enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act, expanded access to same day registration and more states adopting automatic voter registration will all boost turnout. Second, it’s clear that many voters are alienated by parties, and many see very few differences, which can depress turnout. Low-income Americans are the most likely to perceive large differences, possibly because parties overwhelmingly favor the preferences of the rich. Some have advocated Democrats pushing toward the center, but a working paper by political scientist Seth Hill finds that parties are far more successful in pulling in new voters than in converting swing voters.

The data from Shafner and Ansolabehere suggest there are millions of potential progressives who need to be mobilized-- but America lacks strong unions, which tend to mobilize the working class. This leads to a final way to boost turnout: nonprofits. A study released this week by Nonprofit Vote, “Engaging New Voters,” finds that nonprofits tend to engage non-white, young, low-income and low-propensity voters. They find that when nonprofits contacted individuals, those people turned out at high rates, suggesting that nonprofits could dramatically reduce the class, race and age bias of the electorate.

As I’ve noted before, parties have reduced contacts to low-income people and many people of color and young people go ignored by campaigns because they aren’t registered. Nonprofits could step in and fill the void left by parties.
Is Trumpf going to get his mass of slobs and malcontents to register and to vote? His fan base is whiter and older, but not richer and not educated. Some will vote and some won't. He's got a big headstart over his party establishment rivals. But who are they really? Let's start with Zitner's look, at The Journal. He defines them as "an underappreciated segment of the GOP-- blue-collar voters who aren’t especially animated by social issues." They're not really religious and Zitner remarks that his "appeal is a form of secular populism rarely seen in Republican primary races, and one he is pressing in part with appearances in working-class communities in Iowa that include independent voters and even Democrats who may be lured into the caucuses. The celebrity businessman’s message appears to resonate among voters who believe most strongly that political leaders are unable to put the nation back on track." Trumpf's followers, he claims, "don’t have a college degree and don’t identify strongly with the party’s touchstone social issues, such as opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage. What they want is a strong man type-- a fascist dictator to be precise-- but they would never call it that.

These voters care less about a candidate’s résumé or the nuances of policy than a promise to set a direction and follow through-- as when Mr. Trump says he will stop illegal immigration by building a wall on the Southwestern border and make Mexico pay for it.

A Quinnipiac poll this week showed that Mr. Trump’s tone is more important to his supporters than are policy stances. He held a large lead of 10 points over his nearest opponent among Republicans who said the most important attribute for the party nominee is to be a "strong leader." He has a much smaller lead, 4 points, among those who said “shared values” were most important.

Mr. Trump’s backers tend to be more working class than upper income, with a large share with no college education. In combined Journal/NBC News polling this year, Mr. Trump was the top choice of 25% of all GOP primary voters under age 50 who lack a college degree, but of only 13% with a college degree. The same split appeared among older voters: He won support from 23% with no college degree but only 15% of college graduates. No other candidate showed a similar skew.

A national CNN/ORC survey released Friday showed a similar pattern: Mr. Trump had the support of 46% of registered Republicans with no college degree and a much-smaller 18% of those with a degree. His support was also stronger among voters making less than $50,000 than those earning more. Polls in the early-primary states of Iowa and South Carolina have shown the same character to Mr. Trump’s support there.

...At least some of Mr. Trump’s support comes from conservative independents and Democrats who say they plan to vote in GOP primaries, and who account for nearly a third of the GOP primary electorate, Journal/NBC polling shows. Mr. Trump is essentially tied with Mr. Carson for the lead among those voters, Journal/NBC surveys through the fall have found.

[Former Iowa GOP Chairman Matt] Strawn said many of those voters haven't attended Iowa caucuses before, and that Mr. Trump has a challenge in motivating them to attend. His campaign has held calls to train supporters on the mechanics of the caucus. Mr. Strawn notes that Pat Robertson successfully drew new voters to the caucuses to propel his second-place finish in 1988, and that Ron Paul did the same in 2012 on the way to a third-place finish.

One question posed by Mr. Trump’s coalition is whether it creates the greater challenge for social conservatives or for establishment centrists to rally behind a single, favored candidate. By drawing more heavily from less-religious voters than from strong social conservatives, Mr. Trump may most complicate the establishment-wing vote.

Another question is whether Mr. Trump has created a model for building support that future GOP candidates could follow. "Great question," said Mr. Strawn. "At present, this appears to be a Trump-specific phenomenon, rather than a new electoral portal for a nonbillionaire, nonreality TV star Republican to follow."

Healy and Haberman report on the Times' analysis of Trumpf's vocabulary. In other words, how he manages to communicate to the angry, paranoid, hateful, dumb, low-info bigots who have been drawn to his proto-fascist banner. Recall, that last week we talked about another study that found his vocabulary was geared towards a 4th grader.
The dark power of words has become the defining feature of Mr. Trump’s bid for the White House to a degree rarely seen in modern politics, as he forgoes the usual campaign trappings-- policy, endorsements, commercials, donations-- and instead relies on potent language to connect with, and often stoke, the fears and grievances of Americans.

The New York Times analyzed every public utterance by Mr. Trump over the past week from rallies, speeches, interviews and news conferences to explore the leading candidate’s hold on the Republican electorate for the past five months. The transcriptions yielded 95,000 words and several powerful patterns, demonstrating how Mr. Trump has built one of the most surprising political movements in decades, and, historians say, echoing the appeals of some demagogues of the past century.

Mr. Trump’s breezy stage presence makes him all the more effective because he is not as off-putting as those raging men of the past, these experts say.

The most striking hallmark was Mr. Trump’s constant repetition of divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery that American presidents rarely use, based on a quantitative comparison of his remarks and the news conferences of recent presidents, Democratic and Republican. He has a particular habit of saying “you” and “we” as he inveighs against a dangerous “them” or unnamed other-- usually outsiders like illegal immigrants (“they’re pouring in”), Syrian migrants (“young, strong men”) and Mexicans, but also leaders of both political parties.

...While many candidates appeal to the passions and patriotism of their crowds, Mr. Trump appears unrivaled in his ability to forge bonds with a sizable segment of Americans over anxieties about a changing nation, economic insecurities, ferocious enemies and emboldened minorities (like the first black president, whose heritage and intelligence he has all but encouraged supporters to malign).

“‘We vs. them’ creates a threatening dynamic, where ‘they’ are evil or crazy or ignorant and ‘we’ need a candidate who sees the threat and can alleviate it,” said Matt Motyl, a political psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is studying how the 2016 presidential candidates speak. “He appeals to the masses and makes them feel powerful again: ‘We’ need to build a wall on the Mexican border-- not ‘I,’ but ‘we.’”

In another pattern, Mr. Trump tends to attack a person rather than an idea or a situation, like calling political opponents “stupid” (at least 30 times), “horrible” (14 times), “weak” (13 times) and other names, and criticizing foreign leaders, journalists and so-called anchor babies. He bragged on Thursday about psyching out Jeb Bush by repeatedly calling him “low-energy,” but he spends far less time contrasting Mr. Bush’s policies with his own proposals, which are scant.

...The specter of violence looms over much of his speech, which is infused with words like kill, destroy and fight. For a man who speaks off the cuff, he always remembers to bring up the Islamic State “chopping off heads.” And he has expressed enthusiasm for torturing enemies beyond waterboarding. Last month, after several men hit a Black Lives Matter protester at one of his rallies, Mr. Trump said, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”

“Such statements and accusations make him seem like a guy who can and will cut through all the b.s. and do what in your heart you know is right-- and necessary,” said Michael Kazin, a historian at Georgetown University, echoing the slogan that Barry Goldwater used in his 1964 presidential campaign.

And Mr. Trump uses rhetoric to erode people’s trust in facts, numbers, nuance, government and the news media, according to specialists in political rhetoric. “Nobody knows,” he likes to declare, where illegal immigrants are coming from or the rate of increase of health care premiums under the Affordable Care Act, even though government agencies collect and publish this information. He insists that Mr. Obama wants to accept 250,000 Syrian migrants, even though no such plan exists, and repeats discredited rumors that thousands of Muslims were cheering in New Jersey during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He promises to “bomb the hell” out of enemies-- invoking Hiroshima and Nagasaki-- and he says he would attack his political opponents “10 times as hard” as they criticized him.

And as much as he likes the word “attack,” the Times analysis shows, he often uses it to portray himself as the victim of cable news channels and newspapers that, he says, do not show the size of his crowds.

These patterns of elevating emotional appeals over rational ones is a rhetorical style that historians, psychologists and political scientists placed in the tradition of political figures like Goldwater, George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long and Pat Buchanan, who used fiery language to try to win favor with struggling or scared Americans. Several historians watched Mr. Trump’s speeches last week, at the request of The Times, and observed techniques-- like vilifying groups of people and stoking the insecurities of his audiences-- that they associate with Wallace and McCarthy.

“His entire campaign is run like a demagogue’s-- his language of division, his cult of personality, his manner of categorizing and maligning people with a broad brush,” said Jennifer Mercieca, an expert in American political discourse at Texas A&M University. “If you’re an illegal immigrant, you’re a loser. If you’re captured in war, like John McCain, you’re a loser. If you have a disability, you’re a loser. It’s rhetoric like Wallace’s-- it’s not a kind or generous rhetoric.”

“And then there are the winners, most especially himself, with his repeated references to his wealth and success and intelligence,” said Ms. Mercieca, noting a particular remark of Mr. Trump’s on Monday in Macon, Ga. (“When you’re really smart, when you’re really, really smart like I am-- it’s true, it’s true, it’s always been true, it’s always been true.”)

“Part of his argument is that if you believe in American exceptionalism, you should vote for me,” Ms. Mercieca said.

Historically, demagogues have flourished when they tapped into the grievances of citizens and then identified and maligned outside foes, as McCarthy did with attacking Communists, Wallace with pro-integration northerners and Mr. Buchanan with cultural liberals. These politicians used emotional language-- be it “segregation forever” or accusatory questions over the Community Party-- to persuade Americans to pin their anxieties about national security, jobs, racial diversity and social trends on enemy forces.

A significant difference between Mr. Trump and 20th-century American demagogues is that many of them, especially McCarthy and Wallace, were charmless public speakers. Mr. Trump, by contrast, is an energetic and charismatic speaker who can be entertaining and ingratiating with his audiences. There is a looseness to his language that sounds almost like water-cooler talk or neighborly banter, regardless of what it is about.

For some historians, this only makes him more effective because demagogy is more palatable when it is leavened with a smile and joke. Highlighting that informality, one of his most frequently used words is “guy”-- which he said 91 times last week and has used to describe President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a stranger cheering him on at a rally and a celebrity friend.

“His relaxed, jokey tone makes statements about his resolve to solve every problem because he’s knows what’s right and has the energy to do it more persuasive,” said Mr. Kazin of Georgetown, who described Mr. Trump’s idea for a database of Muslims in the United States as insidious but also said he found Mr. Trump amusing at points.

It is the sort of trust-me-and-only-me rhetoric that, according to historians, demagogues have used to insist that they have unique qualities that can lead the country through turmoil. Mr. Trump often makes that point when he criticizes his Republican rivals, though he also pretends that he is not criticizing them.

“All of ’em are weak, they’re just weak,” Mr. Trump said in New Hampshire on Tuesday of his fellow candidates. “I think they’re weak, generally, you want to know the truth. But I won’t say that, because I don’t want to get myself, I don’t want to have any controversies. So I refuse to say that they’re weak generally, O.K.? Some of them are fine people. But they are weak.”

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