You’re Trumped Ace
The assumption persists that Donald Trump’s antics are forcing the mainstream contenders to denounce his know-nothing nativism and move to the center. I wonder if this theory holds up. A great many people in this country really do believe that illegal immigration or even legal immigration is the basic cause of our economic and social problems, and nobody is going to become the Republican nominee without at least dog whistling agreement with them. Rather than jumping the shark, what Trump has done is open the Overton window on political hate speech yet further. In contrast to Trump’s extremism, formerly taboo positions on immigration now sound moderate, just as Walker and Jeb Bush’s economic programs are represented as centrist because they aren’t as spittle flecked at some of the others. Of course any candidate who is in it to win the general election as well as the nomination has to be concerned about alienating the electorate in the process of mollifying the base, but Americans have lousy memories and the talking heads who do their thinking for them won’t remind them in October what was said in February, let ago the previous summer.
There is also an assumption behind the assumption, namely the belief that economic conservatives only support cultural—i.e., racial—politics for cynical reasons. I don’t doubt that old school Tories look down on populist reactionaries, but that doesn’t mean they don’t sympathize with their prejudices as well as their economics. Jeb Bush is avowedly a fan of Charles Murray, though he is careful not to mention the Bell Curve in his endorsement of Murray’s soft authoritarianism. The neoliberals in these parts (California) are famously misogynist—the computer nerds drove women out of programming—and they have a withering disdain for anybody who doesn’t share their geeky Randian world view. Anders Breivik, the world class Norwegian mass murderer, was a libertarian entrepreneur before he decided that the multi-cultural types must be slaughtered for their betrayal of Western Civilization. Of course Breivik’s one successful business venture was an outfit that sold phony college diplomas, but an affinity for fraud is another overlap between the Tea Party right with its gold schemes and miracle diabetes cures and the Silicon Valley hackers and would-be billionaires.
In any case, the difference between the supposedly reasonable Republicans and the nuts is that the former think you should moderate your public rhetoric while the latter revel in outraging the sentiments of the effete liberals. Lindsey Graham got credit for speaking out against Trump, but he doesn’t disagree with Trump on substance, just language. So long as a huge proportion of the electorate thinks of the American identity as a matter of blood and language, Republican politicians will appeal to their sentiments one way or another, just as they’ll go on supporting revived Jim Crow laws and disrespecting an African American president even thought they’d never dream of using the N-word. I expect the party will attempt to split the difference at their convention, nominating Jeb while letting the Duck Dynasty types turn the event into a white trash support group, though perhaps not during prime time.
Are Republican politicians sincere racists or are they just opportunists? The same kind of question comes up again and again. Do they Republicans doubt that the climate is warming or does it just pay better to support the fossil fuel industry? Do Republicans actually believe that destroying the unions, keeping he minimum wage low, and lowering the tax rate on the wealthiest people will lead to less economic inequality or are they simply in favor of economic inequality. I’m not sure it matters in politics, but you can’t help but wonder.