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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

August 4: You Don’t Have To “Pivot To the Center” To Appeal To Swing Voters

There’s been a lot of argument since the Democratic convention as to whether in her acceptance speech Hillary Clinton “pivoted to the center” and potentially abandoned the progressive voters she appealed to earlier. I don’t think so, and I discussed this issue at New York:

Between the first and last days of the Democratic National Convention last week, there was a much-discussed change of tone. Monday was all about progressivism and unity between Clinton and Sanders supporters. Thursday was about the flag, and national security, and chants of USA! USA!

Now, it’s not surprising that folks with Bern marks on their psyches — who weren’t totally convinced by Monday’s unity display — got the willies from Thursday’s rhetoric. OMG, some doubtless thought. Here’s the Clintons triangulating again, and “pivoting to the center.” Progressives could be abandoned entirely by Labor Day!

Was there actually a contradiction between Clinton’s progressive gestures and outreach to Republicans in Philly? Is it possible to energize the base while persuading swing voters at the same time, without betraying somebody’s trust?

To answer that question, it’s important first to take a look at the nature of Clinton’s “outreach to Republicans.” Andrew Prokop put it well at Vox:

“If you look closer, it turns out that Clinton and the Democrats are indeed embracing the symbolism and tropes that the right has loved — but they really aren’t making policy concessions to win them over … Indeed, all of this imagery and rhetoric was deployed in service of an agenda that is remarkably liberal — at least when it comes to domestic and economic policy.”

Even on national-security policy, notes Prokop, Clinton didn’t really “pivot to the center”; she stayed pretty much where she has always been. But the heart of her persuasion technique was not about convincing swing voters she was something they did not think she was; it was about convincing them — and most definitely including Republicans — that Donald Trump was exactly what they feared he was.

In this respect, Clinton deployed a technique I used to call “Barbara Boxer centrism” (named after the famously combative liberal senator from California), wherein a politician “seizes the center” not by occupying it with any surprising or “moderate” policy proposals, but by pushing their opponents out of the center by constantly labeling them as extremist. It just so happens that Clinton’s opponent is an exceptionally good foil for this kind of attack. And so she does not really have to choose between “left” and “center,” or between base mobilization and swing-voter persuasion. He’s dangerously crazy is a message that serves both purposes equally.

You cannot get much better than that.


August 3: Reaction Against Reactionaries in Kansas

A prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), lost in a primary on Tuesday. A lot of the immediate reaction made it sound like a nationally-driven counter-purge of a Tea Person by the Republican Establishment. I didn’t entirely agree, as I noted at New York:

[I]t is true that national groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Ricketts family super-pac fought a proxy war with Huelskamp’s allies in the Club for Growth and Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity in Kansas’s 1st congressional district.

But in a very real sense what Huelskamp’s defeat showed is that ideology does not always trump local factors, even in the ideological hothouse of the contemporary Republican Party. The endorsement that really lifted the challenger Roger Marshall to victory was probably one from the Kansas Farm Bureau.

Huelskamp’s district, which covers most of western Kansas, is dominated by farm and ranch interests; it famously has more cattle than people, and grows wheat, sorghum, sunflowers, and hay. So it mattered a great deal when Huelskamp, then a House freshman, was kicked off the Agriculture Committee for serial defiance of the GOP leadership. Even more eyebrows were raised when Huelskamp became one of just 12 House GOPers to vote against the last omnibus farm bill in 2013, partially because of its SNAP (food stamp) spending levels, but also because the whole bill included a lot of “corporate welfare.” The revolt against the farm bill by House tea-partyers struck at the very heart of the ancient urban-rural compact that supported agricultural programs deemed essential to places like the 1st congressional district of Kansas. In retrospect, it’s rather amazing Huelskamp survived as long as he did.

But there was another primarily local factor that contributed to Huelskamp’s demise: a backlash from Republican voters against the ideologues closely associated with Governor Sam Brownback, whose tax-cutting “experiment” in Kansas produced a fiscal disaster and a particular crisis in public education. In yesterday’s GOP primary, pro-Brownback state legislators lost ten of 16 contested seats; the Wichita Eagle called it a “brutal night for conservatives.” Reality matters, and if Tip O’Neill overstated things by saying “All politics is local,” it’s clear local issues do matter when they are in sharp conflict with ideology.

In many respects, the overriding story in Republican politics for a very long time has been the conquest of the party by conservatives who imposed a rigid ideology on themselves and others not just in the right-wing fever swamps of the Deep South or the Mountain West, but across the country. What’s happening in Kansas right now doesn’t indicate conservatives are losing their grip on the GOP; a stronger data point for that proposition would obviously be Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the national ticket. But Kansas is showing there are limits to the power of ideology.

It’s about time.


July 29: Don’t Count on Election Bounces To Last

As we await the next batch of polls to determine if and to what extent Hillary Clinton got a convention “bounce,” it’s a good time to gain some perspective on these often short-lived phenomena, as I discussed at New York.

[H]istory offers a cautionary lesson that some convention bounces are like young love in the early spring: They just don’t last. As Harry Enten shows at FiveThirtyEight, presidential candidates’ net favorability ratings often rise or plunge between the conventions and Election Day. And some famously large convention bounces were really misleading when the deal went down.

One such bounce was in fact so chimerical that it’s now puzzling it existed at all. The 1980 Democratic Convention that renominated Jimmy Carter is now remembered as a rolling disaster, which began with an effort to dump the sitting president, continued with a speech by losing primary candidate Ted Kennedy that upstaged the nominee, and then concluded with Carter chasing Kennedy around the stage pursuing in vain the traditional clasped-hands unity gesture.

But guess what? Carter’s net favorability rating rose 24 points between the beginning and end of the two conventions that year. He was unpopular earlier and unpopular on Election Day, but for a while there the sun really shined on the 39th president that year.

A more recent and less dramatic example of this dynamic was in 2008, when John McCain got a net 8-point convention advantage, drawing even with Barack Obama before both Sarah Palin and the U.S. economy imploded.

So yeah, the bounces are important, and we are all in a perfectly appropriate habit of beginning to pay attention to polling once the conventions have ended and we are truly into the general-election season. But you cannot take bounces to the bank, and particularly in a year when the conventions are relatively early, the numbers can turn on a candidate like an old love gone sour.


July 28: Democrats Need To Address Issues Like Terrorism and Crime

After noticing, along with everyone else, that the first two days of the Democratic National Convention were extremely light on discussion of certain issues like terrorism and crime (they did spend a lot of time on the former on Day Three), it occurred to me that perhaps an old vice had returned to the American political scene. So I addressed it at New York:

[T]here is some evidence in both parties that a bad old habit is coming back: the tendency to talk predominantly about issues of most concern to the party base, and where the party’s policy prescriptions are relatively popular, and refuse to talk about anything else.

For many years, Democrats avoided talking about national security partly because they thought they looked and sounded weak on the subject, and partly because they figured if voters were absorbed with “good Democratic issues” like education and health care and wages they’d forget to worry about threats to the country. Republicans had a mirror-image delusion, trying hard to ignore “their” issues to the benefit of “our” issues.

One of the reasons Bill Clinton did well politically is that he refused to play that silly game and talked about crime and national security and, yes, even welfare dependency. You can make a good argument (on welfare policy, anyway) that he made the mistake of adopting conservative policies to address these problems. But he recognized something very simple: When politicians refuse to talk about something voters care about, voters fill in the blank with whatever distorted attributed positions the other side suggests. So when Democrats ignored crime as a “Republican issue” and Republicans accuse them of hating cops and sympathizing with violent criminals, a lot of voters had no real reason to conclude otherwise.

Republican George W. Bush (or his “brain,” Karl Rove) got this basic point, insisting on offering conservative prescriptions to improve education, to cover prescription drug costs for seniors, and to deal with the problem of undocumented workers. He even addressed Social Security, though his desire to “reform” the program and improve its solvency by simply reducing benefits was a little too apparent.

The issues discussed at this year’s Republican convention were remarkably straitened. One of them, climate change, was naturally ignored because most Republicans don’t even believe in it. But big areas of economic policy, education policy, health-care policy, environmental policy, food and nutrition policy, and on and on, were at most paid lip service in Cleveland. And even on issues they did address, they often exhibited a cramped perspective: By refusing to acknowledge the issue of police misconduct toward the minority citizens they are supposed to correct, their silence encouraged the impression that they thought police should be able to do any damn thing they want, and that the odd beaten or murdered African-American John Q. Citizens was just the price to be paid for keeping crime under control. Is there any wonder Republicans continue to struggle with minority voters?

But Democrats are making the same mistake if they minimize discussion of terrorism specifically or national security generally, or of immigration enforcement, or of crime policy. On the racially fraught subject of policing, Republican charges that Democrats don’t give a damn about police or even public safety gain traction they do not deserve from a convention where murdered police officers and their families are rarely mentioned.

Again, refusing to cede ownership of entire issue areas to the other party does not mean accepting their policy prescriptions; indeed, it means denying false choices between, say, strong and proactive policing and the liberties of citizens who ought to be presumed innocent when walking the streets or driving their cars.

Political parties ought to have something to say about any issue voters legitimately care about, if only to show they are listening. And any ideology worth having doesn’t let its acolytes fall silent when an inconvenient topic comes up.


July 23: Progressive Unhappiness With Kaine Understandable, But Will Fade

Immediately after Hillary Clinton’s announcement of Sen. Tim Kaine as her running-mate, I discussed at New York some of the negative sentiment expressed about this option even before it was exercised:

For all the talk of Kaine as a sort of political wallflower, he is actually an estimable man who has won losable campaigns in a state Republicans may need to win this year. He has a reputation as being ethically spotless, which matters a lot this year — any hint of scandal in a running mate could be disastrous for Clinton. As has often been noted, he is fluent in Spanish, which is not only a good weapon in a campaign against Donald “Deport ‘Em All” Trump, but a sop to those who were disappointed that the Veep was not Hispanic.

Despite the pushback from progressive Democrats when Kaine emerged as the front-runner for this gig, he’s by no means some sort of warmed-over Blue Dog. He’s a career civil rights lawyer in what was then a pretty conservative state — let that sink in for a bit. He was also the mayor of a relatively large and diverse city. He was elected governor despite an opponent pounding him relentlessly for a faith-based opposition to capital punishment, and he was smart and agile enough to turn the issue around and make it a positive. These are all good signs of both Democratic orthodoxy and political dexterity.

The one issue on which progressives have asked very legitimate questions about Kaine involves another faith-based position: his “personal opposition” to abortion. He’s been about as clear as possible in recent weeks that he’s firmly and comprehensively pro-choice, as he would absolutely have to be in a Hillary Clinton administration where the president is not exactly going to have to consult him or anyone else on this issue.

So the heartburn from the left that’s undoubtedly being felt tonight almost entirely involves economic issues, and beyond that, the sense that choosing Kaine is an insult to Bernie Sanders’ following, which could also provide an opening for Donald Trump.

In a vaccum Kaine’s unfortunately timed expressions of support for less regulation of regional banks, and for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aren’t necessarily deal-breakers for a Veep. The first issue does not involve the biggest banks that are the target of progressive ire, and the second, after all, aligns him with the Democratic President of the United States, whose popularity throughout the party remains high despite occasional lefty grumbling.

But Kaine’s economic heresies highlight the fact that Sanders supporters (and even some more ideologically liberal supporters of her own) expected Clinton to move towards rather than away from them in choosing a running-mate. Given the Clinton family reputation for taking the Left for granted or even triangulating against it, raising Kaine to the ticket plays some bad old tapes in the minds of many progressives. And it’s not like the Virginian has the sort of inspirational personal story that’s going to appeal to the young Sanders voters whose November turnout levels are in doubt. With the Republican nominee posturing as an anti-Wall Street, anti-status quo candidate, there may even be fears that Kaine will expose the ticket to further erosion of white working class support.

You have to figure Hillary Clinton is counting on Bernie Sanders (with a supporting cast of other progressives, including passe-over Veep prospects Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown) to put a halt to any serious revolt against the Kaine selection when he speaks in Philadelphia. Endorsements aside, the most important thing the Clinton-Kaine ticket has going for it in avoiding disunity is the alternative, made so plain in Cleveland this last week. As a progressive acquaintance of mine put it earlier this week when Kaine started looking inevitable: “On one side of the scales you’ve got a ticket made up of two people with troubling attitudes towards the financial sector. On the other side, you’ve got maybe fascism. They are not even remotely of the same weight.”

In that sense, the Clinton-Kaine ticket is “safe” in a more fundamental sense, and even “boring” is not so bad when compared to the bellowing bully-boy who was nominated in Cleveland.


July 22: Mr. Big

After giving some thought overnight to Donald Trump’s big and nasty speech in Cleveland, I offered these observations at New York:

Donald Trump’s law-and-order thematics in his acceptance speech Thursday night offered little documentation for his claim that the country is ablaze with violent crime. Yes, he mentioned a spike in homicides in selected cities, and that’s real, though the experts tell us it’s unclear at this point whether it reflects a general increase in violent crime after decades of steady declines or just a blip.

But you know what? Trump doesn’t care. That there is a perception of a “crime wave” is enough to create a demand for a “law and order” politician, and that posture fits in so beautifully with his overall persona and message that it’s not surprising he chose it as central to his campaign.

For the same reasons, Trump feels no particular need to offer solutions to the quasi-problem of crime he has highlighted. As Matt Yglesias notes today, the president of the United States has but a limited role in dealing with street crime, but has some tools — yet Trump didn’t mention any last night (or in other recent pronouncements) other than the determination to appoint tough prosecutors and law-enforcement officials (and that was probably thrown into the speech as an allusion to the FBI’s decision not to ask for criminal charges against Hillary Clinton rather than having anything to do with violent crime).

But the lack of specific policy ideas is hardly a new thing for Trump. Yglesias attributes it to laziness and limited staffing. While that could be part of the rationale for vagueness on crime and many other issues, an even simpler explanation is that Trump’s whole platform is himself, a strongman in the ancient tradition of tribal chieftains whose very presence is a guarantor of safety and prosperity. Whatever the problem is, he’ll “fix it,” and that’s particularly true of challenges where “strength” is, in theory, of inherent value, such as maintaining a credible deterrent to foreign aggression, negotiating trade agreements, or in general threatening law breakers with violence. Adopting policies like other politicians actually undercuts this message, so Trump doesn’t bother with them. The convention managers last night might as well have emblazoned on the screen behind him Pontius Pilate’s words in presenting Jesus to the people of Jerusalem: Ecce homo! Behold the man!

Yes, strongman politics reassures some people and frightens others, and that’s fundamentally why Trump is such a polarizing figure, and also why his supporters thought his speech last night was a home run, while his detractors thought it was straight out of the Mussolini playbook in length, tone, and substance. When Trump and other speakers last night spoke of “making American one again,” it was clear the rapturous delegates in the hall really did think a strong father figure could somehow quell dissent. To the rest of us, the unity talk sounded like a threat to all of the “others” in this country to shut up or risk the silence of the grave.


July 15: Mike Pence: The Whole Is Less Than the Sum Of His Parts

I’ve been watching Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for a while, and so was prepared when his name finally emerged as Donald Trump’s running-mate. Here are some observations I made at New York:

The more you look at Pence’s recent career…the more he looks like a running mate who checks all the boxes for Trump, but very faintly.

Most notably, this supposed Republican-unity figure has been struggling in his gubernatorial reelection campaign. You get the distinct sense Hoosier Republicans are pleased to hand him off to Trump so that they can put a better candidate into the race to succeed him. That’s not a very good sign.

From the beginning of his tenure in Indianapolis, Pence has looked diminished by the long shadow of his Republican predecessor, Mitch Daniels, generally rated as a successful chief executive even by Democrats. His meh reputation turned toxic in 2015 when by virtually all accounts he bungled an effort to enact a “religious liberty” law, only to backtrack when his state became the target for high-profile boycott threats from businesses, the NCAA, and even churches. His “fix” of the law to make it less egregiously hostile to the basic rights of LGBT folk left no one satisfied.

The fallout hasn’t really dissipated. Pence’s reputation as an unshakable social conservative is supposedly one of the qualities he brings to Trump, whose own standing with Christian conservatives is as fragile as that “little cracker” (as he calls it) he consumes on occasion at church communion celebrations. So it must be unsettling to Team Trump to hear Christian Right warhorse Tony Perkins pause during his largely successful efforts to ride herd on the Republican platform committee to diss the Indiana governor:

“Family Research Council head Tony Perkins told NBC News’ Leigh Ann Caldwell at the RNC’s Platform Committee meeting today that he believes Trump ‘can do better,’ citing Pence’s wavering support for the religious freedom bill he signed into law. ‘I think he can do better with someone who has not capitulated on something as fundamental as religious freedom,’ Perkins said.”

Pence also has a reputation as a rock-ribbed economic conservative. But it’s not clear it would survive the upcoming flip-flops over trade and other economic issues he’d have to execute as Trump’s running mate. A video of him praising NAFTA and other past and future trade agreements on the House floor is already circulating.

Speaking of the House, Pence did not sponsor a single enacted law in 12 years as a congressman. He used to get credit from conservative activists for a two-year chairmanship of the House Republican Study Committee, for decades the conservative group that acted as an ideological commissar monitoring the eternally suspect House Republican leadership. Shortly after Pence’s departure, though, the RSC was impatiently pushed aside by what became the House Freedom Caucus, whose members denounced the RSC as false-flag RINO defenders of the leadership. Another line on Pence’s résumé began to fade.

More generally, this man once considered presidential timber has shown himself to be a tad slow on his feet. You have to wonder how he would fare in a debate against a sharp-witted Democrat like Elizabeth Warren or really any of the figures on Clinton’s short list for veep.

So sure, he’s less perilous than Gingrich or Christie, and not in any danger of upstaging the Boss (unless it’s with a gaffe). He ostensibly helps to mend fences with anti-Trump conservatives, but it’s worth keeping in mind #NeverTrump conservative leader Erick Erickson’s sardonic reaction to reports of Pence’s selection:

“This will be both fun to watch and vicariously humiliating for so many who for so long backed Pence.”

If I had to guess, I’d figure that Pence will soon fade into the background and give Trump what he probably wanted all along: a ticket of Trump looking into a mirror.

So yeah, this is an underwhelming decision.


July 14: Get Used to the Likelihood of a Competitive Presidential Race

After a stretch of very positive polling numbers, the Clinton campaign hit a rough patch this week, freaking out some Dems who thought the Clinton-Trump race was headed towards a blowout. I tried to offer some perspective at New York.

Yesterday, a lot of Democrats were upset about Quinnipiac battleground-state polls that showed Trump even with or leading Hillary Clinton in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But there were mitigating factors: The Q-polls had been giving bad news to Hillary Clinton all year, and there were other recent polls showing her still holding a robust lead.  Still, those thinking she was in the process of building a landslide were disabused of the idea. Moreover, the polls have been showing that the FBI’s announcement of its findings in the email case were hurting rather than helping her.

Today you can expect an even stronger reaction to a CBS/New York Timesnational poll showing a 40/40 dead heat between Clinton and Trump.  The tie isn’t broken when Gary Johnson is added to the mix; it’s then 36/36 with 12 for the Libertarian. The last couple of polls from this outlet showed Clinton with a comfortable if not overwhelming lead.

The timing of this poll probably had a lot to do with the results: It was taken beginning the very day the FBI findings on Clinton’s email usage were revealed, subsequently dominating the news the whole time these pollsters were in the field. So it probably represents a peak reaction to that event. Unsurprisingly, Clinton’s ratings for being “honest and trustworthy” took a dive, to a dismal 28/67, as did her favorability ratio (28/54), shown as basically equal to Trump’s (30/54).

If there’s any silver lining for Democrats in these numbers, it’s that a poll taken at the worst possible time still showed her even with Trump. He’s not rising in the polls, either; she’s dropping. The subsequent endorsement she received from Bernie Sanders has probably improved her standing among both Democrats (where this poll gave her a 58/19 favorability ratio) and independents (19/62). And at present, it’s a fair guess her convention will be better managed and more positive than Trump’s. Even with this latest poll, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver’s polls-only projection gives Clinton a 66 percent probability of winning, though Trump’s odds have risen from 20 percent to 34 percent in pretty short order. And she got some good news, ironically, from Fox’s state polling, which showed her up ten points in Colorado and seven in Virginia, reinforcing the theory that she’ll do well in battleground states with a concentration of college-educated white voters and Latinos.

But as I observed yesterday, it’s really time for people expecting a runaway Clinton landslide to get a grip. It could still happen, particularly if the focus on the emails fades and Trump’s divisive character and dubious “ideas” get more attention, but a close race remains likely.


July 8: If You’re Counting on Earned Media, Better Have Some Message Discipline

Before the killings in Minnesota and Louisiana and then the massacre in Dallas seized national attention, it looked for a while like Donald Trump was going to stomp all over his fellow Republicans’ efforts to keep the focus on the Clinton email saga as it began to slip away. I wrote about the implications for the general election at New York:

It’s been noted far and wide that Donald Trump has managed to use the extraordinary force of his personality to dominate several news cycles with discussion of possible anti-Semitic imagery in his Twitter feed, the sunny side of Saddam Hussein, and other distractions. This has to have been extremely frustrating to Republicans who very badly wanted these same news cycles to be all about Hillary Clinton’s emails and FBI director James Comey’s censorious language about her conduct.

But there’s more to this problem than the opportunity costs of missing a chance to damage HRC. Trump is extremely dependent on earned media, to an extent we haven’t seen in a modern presidential candidate. NBC’s First Read today did one of its periodic updates of paid-media expenditures from SMG Delta, both nationally and in battleground states. And it’s pretty shocking:

“[T]he Clinton campaign and its allies are currently outspending Trump and his supporting groups over the airwaves by a 15-to-1 margin, $45 million to $3 million. And in the nine battleground states — now including Pennsylvania — it’s a 46-to-1 margin, nearly $43 million to $929,000.”

Speaking of Pennsylvania, remember all of the recent talk about Clinton not paying enough attention to the Keystone State? She’s still outspending Trump on P.A. media by more than a five-to-one margin.

Now, maybe this lopsided situation will be redressed somewhat thanks to Trump’s purported new fundraising success. But the fact remains that the candidate himself appears to hold paid media in low regard as a campaign resource.

That’s all well and good, and many political scientists think the value of paid-media spending is overestimated in presidential general elections so long as one side doesn’t have unchallenged command of the airwaves, making the other helpless to stop the bombardment. But Trump needs to get a move on to meet that challenge. And even if he does, his residual and habitual reliance on earned media means message discipline is absolutely crucial to his odds of victory in what is already an uphill battle. In a general election, he’s not going to be able to blot out the sky with fascinated and often positive media attention the way he did during the primaries. So his apparent inability to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em when it comes to commanding media attention is a real problem.


July 6: Trump’s Cult of the Politically Incorrect

An incident involving strange images on Twitter all but engulfed the Trump campaign this week.  I tried to go a little deeper than the usual interpretations in explaining it at New York.

It’s difficult to believe Donald Trump is anti-Semitic. For one thing, his adored daughter Ivanka is a convert to Judaism, out of solidarity with her Jewish husband. For another, as a New York–based business tycoon, Trump has interacted frequently and cordially with Jewish colleagues, employees, investors, politicians, and members of the news media throughout his career.

That’s all the more reason to puzzle over the weaselly reaction of Trump and his campaign to allegations one of his Twitter blasts at Hillary Clinton borrowed anti-Semitic imagery from one of Trump’s anti-Semitic supporters. Trump has gone to great lengths to claim that the image in question isn’t what it is, and has in general done everything other than the obvious: apologize for screwing up and forcefully disassociate himself with his alt-right fan club.

In a thorough examination of the incident, Matt Yglesias hit on an important insight about Trump that goes beyond anti-Semitism:

“Trump has not acted to distance himself in any way from the anti-Semitic behavior of his followers. There’s been nothing remotely in the vicinity of Barack Obama’s famous race speech from the 2008 campaign, and Trump has consistently appeared angrier about being criticized for ties to anti-Semites than about the anti-Semitism expressed by many of his fans.”

Some might associate this reluctance to admit error, apologize, and then move on to Trump’s narcissism — those who endlessly admire themselves in every mirror are not prone to see or admit flaws.

But there’s something else going on that makes Trump’s supporters share the same reluctance to say they are sorry. He’s developed a cult of “political incorrectness” in which any sensitivity to others’ feelings is considered weakness, and the impulse to apologize for offensive remarks or behavior is dismissed as a surrender to bullying by elites and their minority-group clientele.

In his long, sympathetic meditation on Trump’s supporters for the New Yorker, George Saunders noticed this same phenomenon:

“Above all, Trump supporters are ‘not politically correct,’ which, as far as I can tell, means that they have a particular aversion to that psychological moment when, having thought something, you decide that it is not a good thought, and might pointlessly hurt someone’s feelings, and therefore decline to say it.”

In other words, there’s a tendency in Trumpland to view what most of us consider common decency as “political correctness,” which is to be avoided at all costs, most especially when the opprobrium of liberal elitists is involved.  It’s no accident, then, that Trump sometimes seems to court the appearance of impropriety, and defend examples of rudeness, crudeness, and bigotry even when he’s not personally guilty of perpetrating them.

Trump did not invent this strange mindset, of course. Right-wing talk-radio types have made a living from baiting liberals and women and minorities and then inciting listeners to express umbrage at the resulting outrage. Trump’s former rival and current supporter Dr. Ben Carson could not go five minutes on the presidential campaign trail without attacking “political correctness” as the source of all evil and as a secular-socialist stratagem for silencing the Folks by shaming them….

To use a phrase beloved of Trump’s great predecessor in political sin George Wallace, the mogul does not “pussyfoot around” in offending his detractors and those people — the pushy feminists and entitled minorities whose very presence profanes America in the eyes of many Trump supporters. Trump tells it like it is, which means he is not inhibited by a civility that masks nasty but essential truths.

Inevitably, this nasty but essential explanation of Trump’s appeal will annoy supporters and enemies alike, who insist on ascribing purely economic motives to those who have lifted him so shockingly high in American political life. Sorry, but I don’t think uncontrollable rage at having to “press 1 for English” or say “Happy Holidays” can be explained by displaced anger over wage stagnation or the decline of the American manufacturing sector. As Saunders said in another of his insights into Trump supporters:

“[T]he Trump supporter might be best understood as a guy who wakes up one day in a lively, crowded house full of people, from a dream in which he was the only one living there, and then mistakes the dream for the past: a better time, manageable and orderly, during which privilege and respect came to him naturally, and he had the whole place to himself.”

Such a guy may well be old enough to remember a time when he and people just like him could behave as though they had America to themselves. Nowadays that gets you hostile looks, a rebuke from HR, a shaming from moral authorities, and sometimes worse. But Donald Trump will fight for your right to offend in your own damn country. And some offenders will love him for it.