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Saturday, September 10, 2016
What Happens When Trump Departs?
Donald Trump's so far successful presidential run has raised a heretofore unnoticed irony. On the one hand, the GOP establishment has long called for a "Big Tent" strategy to attract African Americans, Hispanics, even gays plus other "minorities" currently in the Democratic camp. Ironically, Trump has indeed embraced the outreach strategy but his target has never been on the "official" GOP outreach list, namely lower-class whites, typically with only a high school degree or, to be a bit crude, Hillbillies, trailer court trash, rednecks, yahoos, hicks, and others who Trump correctly calls the "forgotten men" of American politics (perhaps the least offensive name would be Appalachians).
Now the politically critical question: if and when Trump holds his farewell election -- in 2020 for his second term -- will the GOP establishment continue to mine, courtesy of Trump, this newly energized voting bloc? Or, with the iconoclastic Trump gone, revert to the more familiar outreach directed at blacks, Hispanics, gays, and women. Will all those animated white folk filling up auditoriums to hear Donald return home when Trump finally departs the stage?
Let me suggest that even if Donald wins in a landslide, the GOP movers and shakers (including it's affiliated "donor community') will shun those who recently waited hours to attend a Trump rally. The doormen at the heralded GOP Big Tent will find a way to send his enthusiasts to the end of the line.
There are two reasons for this upcoming divorce. First is social compatibility: the well-educated, sophisticated folk who comprise the Republican Establishment barely acknowledge the existence of these "rustic" white folk, let alone have any intuitive feel how to appeal to them politically. A visit to the RNC websitedisplays multiple outreach programs but nothing for poor, white high school graduates (the closest targets "America's faith-based community"). This neglect is no accident.
Actually, though blacks reliably vote nearly 100% Democratic, I'd guess that the GOP elite believes it has a better finger on their pulse than on the Weltanschauung of poor whites. Given a choice of hustling votes at a black Baltimore church, surely a low-yield operation, versus pressing the flesh at a weekend gun and knife show, the choice is no contest. Upscale Republicans have the black church script down pat -- reiterate historical injustices, celebrate the strength of black congregations, quote The Reverend Martin Luther King, and propose a Marshall Plan of federal assistance to re-build inner cities. Indeed, the RNC probably has that generic, often borrowed speech on file.
Could Reince Priebus identify the following: June Carter, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Earl Scruggs, Dale Earnhardt, Don "Big Daddy" Garlits, and Richard "The King" Petty? If staff writers at, say, the National Review attended a gun show to schmooze with Trump's followers, what would they discuss? My guess is that they would embarrass themselves and thus wisely avoid these earthy folk. Just picture big-time GOP donors parachuting into fly-over country and stopping for lunch at the Waffle House? Envision their reaction if they visited a double-wide (that's a trailer) and were asked if they might like a slice of Possum Pie for dessert?
Worse than the cultural distance are the mechanics of reaching these struggling white folk. Absent personal contact, the problem will be "solved" by just running more TV commercials and handing out more yard signs. Not exactly what Donald used to invite them to the dance.
Dealing with millions of independent-minded down-market whites is equivalent to herding cats. By contrast, a RNC outreach director would have no problem lining up dozens of self-designated "black leaders" and church-based organizations. This gap in avenues of access is easily seen by comparing the number of black and Hispanic organization vis-à-vis those representing lower and working class whites. To see for myself I Googled "white civil rights organizations" and found a site "The Foremost Problem" that claimed to list the twenty-five most important "pro-white" sites. Though I have long monitored American racial politics professionally, I drew a complete blank on most of these groups (e.g., Aryan Volk of Midgard, Racist Jokes, Local 1488) and I suspect that nearly all consist of a few stalwarts and, in some instances, a website. The number one pro-white groups an explicit neo-Nazi site called Storm Front, a totally marginal group. Yes, the Southern Poverty Law Center lists some 892 "hate groups" and several have a pro-white orientation, but, again, these are miniscule and hardly resemble over a dozen well-funded, black and Hispanic groups who regularly draw regular media attention.
It is hard to exaggerate this lack of easy access for a GOP outreach to this potential voting bloc. I cannot think of a single equivalent of a white trash Jesse Jackson, let along that White House regular, the Reverend Al Sharpton. More important, if a well-respected member of this group did try to become a white Jesse Jackson (i.e., a career race hustler) he (or she) would pay a steep price for being outspoken defender of whites. Recall Phil Robertson of the wildly popular TV series "Duck Dynasty" -- he was temporarily kicked off the air for his "controversial" Bible-based views on homosexuality. Put into advertising lingo, what GOP Grand Poo-bah would want the GOP "brand" associated with Hillbillies?
This "branding" issue brings us to the second reason why these white, down-market Trump supporters will flee to the hills once Donald departs. In today's PC-dominated landscape, it is more important to honor the gods of multiculturalism and inclusion even if paying homage fails to bring the votes. In practice, the GOP establishment cannot anger the priests of the mainstream mass media who guard the sensibilities of blacks, Hispanics, gays and women. Appealing to lower and working class whites will necessarily be deemed offensive to blacks and Hispanics -- out-reach is a zero-sum endeavor. It is not the loss of black and Hispanic votes that drives calculations; rather, pandering to whites dishonors the PC gods and such sacrilege affronts millions of better-educated whites who demand that all office-seekers at least publicly observe the multicultural/inclusionary faith. It is not that these middle class whites admire blacks, Hispanics and all the rest; upholding the public faith is paramount.
Let's imagine the GOP establishment hired the well-known stock car driver Jeff Gordon, a man of staggering Hollywood sex appeal who already has a TV and movie career and is currently employed as a Fox Sports broadcaster. A seeming no-brainer since every Trump supporter knows and admires Gordon and his presence as a GOP pitchman would draw thousands. I'm unsure of Gordon's politics but a good guess is that he would endorse the "Okie from Muskogee" values of millions of NASCAR fans. The pitch would be heavy on old-fashioned "love it or leave it" patriotism, respect for the military and the flag, the value of hard work -- show up early, pay attention--and discipline, the importance of family, raising one's children properly, and personally keeping to the straight and narrow. Yes, not all of his admirers (including Jeff himself) in practice embrace this old-fashioned message, but his rhetoric will bring the house down.
Unfortunately, not everybody will be thrilled. The New York Times will certainly ask if every American must emulate Gordon's hyperconventional vision of family life. Yes, even as a five year old he worked hard winning 35 main dirt bike events while setting five track records but that comes with white privilege since blacks could not afford dirt bikes let along the cost of competing. And as everybody knows, NASCAR racing is the least diverse sport in America and has done nothing to recruit women and people of color to participate. Indeed, as Trump unfortunately discovered, merely filling an auditorium with boisterous white people -- crackers to some -- is tantamount to practicing racial discrimination and, as we all know, no group outshines NASCAR fans when it comes to owning guns, pickup trucks, and Bibles. What's Jeff's view on bathrooms for the transgendered? Where are the gay sponsors of NASCAR events? In other words, Jeff is divisive and the GOP Big Tent cannot be divisive. In Animal Farmspeak, African Americans good; Hillbillies bad.
Let me predict that when Trump departs Reba McEntire will strike it rich with her plaintive "Where have all the Good Old Boys and their Red Hats Gone?"