I don’t blame Donald Trump supporters for being angry. Angry with government, angry with the fecklessness of the GOP, angry with fellow voters imprudent enough to re-elect Barack Obama after seeing the harm he caused in his first term, angry with the use/abuse of American law and generosity by those who have “anchor babies” or participate in “birth tourism” to gain taxpayer-funded benefits if not de facto citizenship.
I disagree with those who say Trump’s supporters aren’t actually angry; after all I’m angry about those things too. Who doesn’t want to flip off this presidency (and certain aspects of the last one), this Congress (and the last ten), and even the Supreme Court at their wanton abdication of their oaths of office to protect and defend the Constitution and faithfully execute the laws of the United States?
In this righteous anger (though I question whether Trump’s is feigned), The Donald represents a populist continuation of the Tea Party movement which was a reaction against the big government and big-spending approach of George W. Bush (including the bank bailout known as TARP) as much as against Obama’s “stimulus” and “cash for clunkers” and Obamacare.
But while Trump is an extension of the Tea Party he is also a perversion of it: Like the liberty movement, his focus is not party-centric and he claims to be anti-establishment, anti-cronyism, and against anything vaguely like politics as usual. But then he stands on issue after issue for bigger government, more wealth redistribution and economic xenophobia, sounding more like Chuck Schumer than anyone recognizable as a principled conservative.
Mr. Trump is dangerously wrong in his views on free trade and on Mexico and China “killing us” through trade. He’s wrong to suggest mass deportation of families including people who are currently understood to be American citizens (and his supporters are deluded if they believe he didn’t propose exactly that).
And, like many of his once-and-future liberal positions, he’s wrong to maintain (in a series of disjointed statements representing continuing confusion about basic conservative principles) that the United States should keep and exacerbate a steeply graduated income tax structure, a system which former Estonian President Mart Laar correctly called “the grand idea of Karl Marx.” (The video of Laar accepting the 2006 Cato Institute Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty is worth watching once a year to remind yourself of fundamental truths and values.)
Trump parrots Democratic talking points about “lowering taxes on the middle class” even though the average federal income tax rate for Americans taxpayers is only 10 percent. Those Americans who earn over $200,000 per year contribute more than 70 percent of all federal income taxes; those earning between $40,000 and $100,000 per year contribute only 11 percent even though the latter group contains six times as many tax returns as the former. Trump deserves a middle finger aimed his way for such mindless populist pandering.
The idea that the rich routinely pay a lower tax rate than “working Americans” is a myth successfully perpetuated by liberals like Warren Buffett and George Soros — and now Donald Trump. The average tax rate of someone earning over a million dollars is more than triple the average tax rate of those earning between $100,000 and $200,000 and nearly seven times the rate of someone earning $75,000. We already soak the rich, but as with everything else in Trump-world, facts be damned.
There are plenty of Americans who don’t realize that Trump is misguided on so many of his policy talking points. But there are also plenty who know and simply don’t care; they’ll tolerate hyperbolic rhetoric if it means participating in flipping the bird to the entire structure of our federal government and politics-as-usual.
If you don’t believe me, try this thought experiment: If Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or Marco Rubio were on record having supported single payer (socialist) health care, the “assault weapon” ban, the Supreme Court’s horrendous decision in Kelo, or “partial-birth abortion,” would Tea Party activists brush it off, saying “people can change”? What if any of those gentlemen had, like Trump, held all of those positions? In your hearts, Trump supporters, you know the answer.
As Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council put it last week, “Past performance is a pretty good indicator of future performance…. In most cases, what you’ve seen in the past is what you get in the future.”
But Bush, Walker, and Rubio (and all but two of the other roughly twenty candidates in both major parties) have previously held elected office and are therefore perceived as part of the problem, part of the out-of-touch elite who have led us to this unhappy place despite our vocal opposition for the entire painful journey. Americans, particularly those who aren’t Democrats, are done with business as usual and, inspired by Trump, are giving the one-finger salute to our entire political system.
Trump is the leader of the Middle Finger Mob but he’s not its only beneficiary. The most recent Public Policy Polling poll of “usual” New Hampshire primary voters has Trump with 35 percent of the vote there. Unconventional (but hardly “outsider”) John Kasich who is running to the left of the rest of the field is second with 11 percent, followed by Carly Fiorina with 10 percent. If you add Trump, Fiorina, and Ben Carson (in fifth place with six percent), you have over half (51 percent) of New Hampshire Republicans supporting candidates who have never held political office.
PPP also asked “who would be your second choice?” The winner of that question was Carson, with Fiorina second and Trump third. Even though it’s the second-place question, it is extremely important; such a trifecta for never-previously-elected candidates is a remarkable spectacle, perhaps unique in our history. As if to emphasize the giant middle finger to the establishment, Bernie Sanders currently leads Hillary Clinton in the Granite State.
It’s not just quirky New Hampshire flipping off the political ladder-climbers: A Monmouth University poll of South Carolina voters also has the combination of Trump, Carson, and Fiorina with 51 percent support among likely Republican primary voters. A two-week old CNN poll in Iowa had the trio with 43 percent, a number that has probably increased since then. And a Quinnipiac University national poll released last week has Trump and Carson combining for 40 percent with another five percent for Fiorina.
The Hill reports that “Polling experts agree on one thing when it comes to Donald Trump’s presidential run: They’ve never seen anything like it.” The director of Monmouth’s polling organization says, “Throw out the rulebook when it comes to Trump, that’s not even in the parameters of what we see as unusual.”
Focus group and communications expert Frank Luntz has reversed his initial dismissal of Trump’s candidacy after hearing repeatedly how deeply Americans fear for our nation’s future and don’t trust the entrenched political class to do anything other than help the entrenched political class and well-connected special interests who fund their re-elections.
While I’m more optimistic about the future than many Trump supporters are, it’s not by much.
Unfortunately, the only way to minimize the harm that politicians will do to the rest of us in pursuit of their own self-interest is to reduce the size and scope of government — something that Mr. Trump seems less interested in than any other Republican candidate.
When Luntz pointed out Trump’s many examples of misogyny and bad behavior, focus group participants simply didn’t care, or at least didn’t care enough to abandon how good it feels to flip the bird to previously elected politicians seeking higher office. Promotions should be based on merit and today’s voters see very little merit emanating from a system that has failed us so badly under both parties’ leadership.
So where does this leave us? More than half of Republican voters expect Donald Trump to be the party’s presidential nominee despite polls continuing to show that Trump does worse than either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio against Democrats Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or Bernie Sanders — though not as much worse as he used to.
I continue to believe that while Republican voters are rightfully irate with the state of American politics most are not self-destructive enough to nominate Trump, the choice (among leading GOP contenders) most likely to result in another Democratic presidency.
Rhetorically flipping off politicians and politics can be satisfying, even fun. It represents an important rip current swirling within a restless sea of Constitution-minded Americans. But it’s not a solution, nor is the man leading the Middle Finger Mob.