The rise of Donald Trump is a reaction to how out-of-touch the political class in Washington, DC is with normal American voters. Regardless of our personal feelings toward Trump and his candidacy, it’s important for Americans to recognize the factors that spurred his rise.
In my last post, I argued that Donald Trump (and Hillary Clinton) are the candidates that America, and more specifically the Republican and Democratic Parties deserve. I expounded on how the Democratic Party, in it’s unabashed drive for power and control of not only the American presidency and Congress, but also American institutions, found a candidate whose thirst for power at all costs matched its own ambition. However, I wanted to devote an entire post to exploring which factors within the GOP caused our nation’s oldest political party to see its very survival threatened by Donald Trump, and why that is exactly what it deserves.
Despite Trump’s numerous blunders, verbal missteps, and the general lack of discipline exhibited by both him and his campaign, Hillary Clinton has been unable to pull away and open up a consistent, large lead in the polls. To this point, she has seen numerous bumps in the polls, the most significant of which being immediately following the Democratic National Convention, Trump has always rebounded to this point because Clinton is stuck defending a status quo that two-thirds of the country believes is broken.
Donald Trump is the only candidate who has been able to capture the anger that so much of the American electorate feels against a distant political establishment. Ordinary Americans, both Republicans and Democrats (as evidenced by the long dalliance the left wing had with Bernie Sanders) are in an anti-incumbent mood. Though Trump’s gaffes have caused him to lose much of the intellectual, college-educated Republican establishment, he has remained in the race due to support from white, working class voters who traditionally formed the background of the Democratic Party. Ordinary Americans feel left behind by Washington, DC, and worry that they no longer have a voice. They see the political establishment as existing only to serve itself, regardless of party identification, in order to remain in power.
Kyle Smith published an article in the Sunday edition of the New York Post entitled “How Dumb Does Washington Think We All Are” (link below). Smith highlights the results of a poll of Washington bureaucrats taken by researchers at Johns Hopkins University which demonstrates how Washington has lost touch with the rest of America. I’ve listed a couple highlights below:
-65 percent of the DC insiders guessed that median household income is lower than it is in reality (about $52,000 a year)
-Almost four out of five respondents underestimated the percent of the population that is white (which is 78 percent of Americans)
-64 percent of those surveyed underestimated the cohort of Americans (age 25 and up) who have a high school diploma (85 percent)
-80 percent of respondents guessed that the rate of homeownership is lower than it is (67 percent)
-71 percent of voters (according to an August Pew survey) think immigration is either a major problem or a moderately big problem. Fully 88 percent of voters think crime is a problem, including 45 percent who say it’s a very big problem, yet 54 percent of DC insiders think Americans know very little or nothing about proposed policies to deal with citizenship for illegal immigrants. Insiders think only 1 percent of Americans know “a great deal” about the subject. And most insiders (53 percent) think average Americans know very little or nothing about crime policy too.
With results like that, Smith argues (correctly in my mind) that this explains why Washington elites push policies the average Americans do not want, such as extending risky loans to potential homebuyers with subpar credit, expanding the number of Syrian refugees despite not being able to properly vet them, and refusing to enforce the southern border and curb illegal immigration, which working class Americans see as a threat to their jobs (and are sick of being called racists for believing that).
Trump has provided an outlet for these Americans who are furious for how out-of-touch “public servants” in Washington have become –for example, Trump leads by 20 points over Clinton among voters who see terrorism as a major issue in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll.
Another perfect example of how detached Washington, DC has become from reality can be found in the questioning of Richard Cordray, the chief of the Consumer Protection Bureau (CPB) in a congressional hearing. When asked how much the new $125 million headquarters of the CPB cost, he responded “Why does that matter to you?”
Trump’s policy positions represent a dramatic departure from traditional conservative principles, which is why much of the Republican intellectual class, led by Jeb Bush and John Kasich, have deserted him. However, he has supplemented his support from people who believe the system is broken, and because Hillary Clinton is stuck defending the broken system, despite Trump’s numerous gaffes, this race will remain close. Should Trump lose, his rise in support will represent a huge missed opportunity for the Republican Party–a missed opportunity which could haunt the party for a generation. The Republican Party allowed Trump to rise by continuing to advocate a party platform which was out of touch with its base. The majority of Trump voters see the free market and unchecked immigration as a threat, an interventionist foreign policy as unnecessary given the domestic problems we face at home (particularly the national debt), and the Clintons as enemies to American democracy. Rather than put forward a candidate who could assure the base they were being heard while also articulating a policy that would not alienate half the country, the GOP put forth 16 members of the political class (Ted Cruz included). Though they had strong resumes, they collectively represented Republican thinking inside the Beltway. On the contrary, Trump was the only candidate to seize on the anger of the electorate and make the issues they cared about the centerpiece of his campaign. He has run a campaign focused on strong borders, a rethinking of traditional alliances and trade deals, and the corruption of the Clintons.
Though I believe Trump will ultimately fail in his bid for the presidency by being unable to overcome his lack of support among women and independents, the Clinton campaign’s chief concern has to be a Brexit-style election. In the British vote to leave the European Union this summer, all polling up to the election showed a close, but convincing victory for the Remain camp. However, that polling was inaccurate, because when voters actually went to the polls and could no longer be branded xenophobic racists for supporting British nationalism and wanting to leave the EU, they voted according to their personal evaluation of whether their life was better in the EU or whether a future outside of the EU offered greater opportunity. In that same vein, Hillary Clinton’s campaign should be worried that when voters ask themselves whether their lives will be better with the status quo, the voters will roll the dice with an outsider candidate who captures their anger against the status quo and Washington political class