As of today, the presidential primaries are over. Our choice in November is between Hillary Clinton and the unthinkable. So it may be instructive to look closely at those who are thinking the unthinkable.
Trump’s recent attack on Judge Curiel is doing more than simply underlining The Donald’s utter ignorance of separation of powers–the bedrock of America’s constitutional architecture. It is driving a wedge between the unapologetic racists who back him–the KKK and white supremacists whose support he has pointedly refused to reject–and the much larger number of voters who deny racist attitudes and tell pollsters they like Trump because “he tells it like it is.”
These are the people who harbor “racial resentments” but are unwilling to admit (probably even to themselves) that they are responding to Trump’s way-beyond-dog-whistle rhetoric.
Recent data is bringing the drivers of Trumpism into sharper focus, and what we’re seeing is striking: Racial attitudes may play a larger role in opinions toward Trump than once thought. Economic concerns, on the other hand, don’t seem to have as much of an impact on support for Trump.
Two recent studies bear this out. In the first, Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner analyzed data from the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) survey (a representative sample of 1,200 Americans) to compare feelings and attitudes toward Donald Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. He explored how economic opinions, racial attitudes and demographic variables predicted an individual’s feelings toward Trump and Clinton. He found that one factor was much stronger than the other:
“My analysis indicates that economic status and attitudes do little to explain support for Donald Trump,” he wrote for Vox last week. More to the point, “those who express more resentment toward African Americans, those who think the word ‘violent’ describes Muslims well, and those who believe President Obama is a Muslim have much more positive views of Trump compared with Clinton,” Klinkner found.
In March, The Washington Post and ABC News conducted a similar survey, using data from a national poll, and came to similar conclusions. So did the Pew Research Center–pretty much the gold standard for survey research.
Those of us who have been watching Trump’s electoral successes with disbelief–who have been appalled by his boorishness, astonished by his ignorance of governance and both foreign and domestic policy, and repulsed by his consistent willingness to “go there”–to utter the sorts of racist, sexist, xenophobic invective generally considered inconsistent with civil society–apparently have an answer to the question “who could possibly vote to put this narcissistic buffoon in the Oval Office?”
Racists, sexists and xenophobes.
As Trump initially doubled down on his insistence that being Latino, Muslim or female is an “inherent conflict of interest” that should disqualify judges from ruling on cases that involve him, it was interesting to see the reaction of his supporters in the second category–those in denial about their racial attitudes.
We expected the KKK to applaud, but as these “second-category” voters experience discomfort in confronting the real reason Trump appeals to them, defense of the indefensible may come at a cost.