Trump’s Democrats

[cross-posted at Hit Coffee]

While many Democrats are eager to deny that Trump is drawing support from their party, the data show a different story. That data also reveals the falsity of the pretense that Republican party leaders could somehow have prevented their party from being largely captured by an ugly populist contingent.

It’s important to remember that both parties have traditionally had their reactionary factions. While the GOP had the John Birchers, the Democrats had their boll weevils—socially conservative and racist southern Democrats, but who often supported populist initiatives, such as rural electrification. Not only did the Democrats have that group, that group was the foundational core of the Democratic Party, with its Jeffersonian origins in anti-nationalism and defense of a racially stratified society.

The boll weevils are mostly forgotten now, but not wholly gone. The South has shifted from being overwhelmingly Democratic to being highly contested territory where Republicans win regularly. In 1960, 100% of the U.S. Senate seats from the Confederate states were held by Democrats. In 1980 they still held 55% of those seats. Today, the Democrats only hold 18%. But Democrats are often more successful on the local level, where politics is more personal and party label less significant…and where people can know that Candidate Smith isn’t a liberal, but an old time Democrat. Many of these voters still identify as Democrat, even as they vote Republican at the state and national levels. Think, for example, of Kim Davis, the Tennessee County Clerk who refused to give out marriage licenses to same sex couple—a Democrat, not a Republican.

And those folks are often Trump supporters. Other than his home state of New York, Trump’s best states are in a bundle of the old South states plus West Virginia, another state where the old southern Dems long dominated. Out west in the intermountain states, which have always been predominantly Republican, )his support fades.

OK, one might say, they’re not real Democrats (although they are what Democrats predominantly once were), because they’re really conservatives. But as reported by RealClearPolitics, 20% of the Trumpenproletariate identify as liberal. True, a strong majority of 65% describe themselves as conservatives, but only 13% say they are very conservative, and less than 1/3 say they are Tea Partiers. Trump’s supporters are not the radical right-wing revanchists liberals claim are taking over the Republican Party.

All of this helps explain why over 2/3 of Trump’s supporters say they would vote for him if he left the GOP. A lot of them aren’t strongly committed to the party—they are in fact not the mythical Republican base.

Liberal and establishment Democrats don’t want to admit that many of these people are still Democrats. But many of them are, or they are about as much Democrats as they are Republican, willing to vote for either party depending on the candidate.

And this is the reason it’s ridiculous to talk about how the GOP establishment should have kept these people from taking over the party. First, they haven’t; that’s largely a different group of people. Second, parties don’t choose their supporters as much as supporters choose the party. If we think in spatial terms, on a left to right continuum, many of these people find themselves to the right of the median Democrat, so they’re going to take a look at the party that’s also to the right of the median Democrat. If they find that they’re also to the right of the median Republican, they’ll be more attracted to the Republican Party, not necessarily because it is welcoming to their extremist views, but because it’s median is less far away from their views than the Democratic median. Those folks will pull the party away from its establishment, but there’s precious little the establishment can do to stop that.

But those aren’t the Trumpa Loompahs (hattip Steve Horwitz). Those folks tend to support Cruz or Rubio, because they recognize the liberal elements in Trump’s message.

So suck it up, Dems. Trump’s your party’s phenomenon, too.

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About James Hanley

James Hanley is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of either organization.
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