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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Trump’s Closing Midterm Pitch: White Identity Politics

Even before his “immigration speech” at the White House that telegraphed all sorts of panicky militarism about the southern border, the president was making it clear that he only had eyes for his “base” and was determined to get them fired up to save Republican candidates, as I pointed out at New York.

As the midterm election campaign winds down (or given the enthusiasm levels, winds up) to a tense conclusion, there’s not much doubt about the Trump/GOP closing pitch, made almost exclusively to the party’s conservative “base:” it’s about the “caravan,” the evil lying media, the scheming socialist Democrats, and the threat to law and order posed by (non-white) Democratic constituencies. It’s a fear campaign with the president’s usual lurid touches.

But make no mistake: underlying these themes is a politics of race and identity that somehow isn’t seen as malignant by Republicans because of the race involved and its endangered majority status. Adam Serwer does a good job of exposing the truth that is just barely beneath the surface of the GOP midterm message:

“In upstate New York, an embattled Republican incumbent attacks his black, Harvard-educated Democratic challenger as a ‘big-city rapper’; in California, an anti-immigrant Republican under federal indictment smears his Arab American rival as a terrorist; in Georgia, a state far from the Southern border, the Republican candidate for governor brags that he’ll drive around in his pickup truck and ’round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself.’ Although the president hasn’t spent as much time in recent appearances emphasizing the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, he framed the opposition to his nominee, who faced multiple accusations of sexual assault, as an attack on powerful men by dangerous feminists.

Indeed, white male identity politics has become so central to conservative appeals to the electorate that it has become an obligatory orthodoxy as oppressive as any left-wing campus speech code, as I noted in observing Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp’s boasts of being “politically incorrect” earlier this year:

“If Kemp wins…with this strategy, it is going to reinforce the already powerful Trumpian impulse to treat conservative “base” voters as motivated above all by the desire to go back to the wonderful days when a white man could without repercussions tell a racist joke, ‘tease’ women about their physical appearance or sexual morals, and mock people who in some way (say, a disability) differ from one’s own self. At some point we may all come to understand that it’s not (except in some scattered college campuses) the politically correct who are imposing speech norms on the rest of us, but the politically incorrect who won’t be happy until offending the less powerful is again recognized as among the principal Rights of Man.”

It has for years been unclear whether Republicans fully understand that they are living on borrowed time in depending on appeals to the fears and resentments of a shrinking majority, and to an increasingly insecure male minority within that majority. After their 2012 presidential defeat they were briefly chastened by the need for a more inclusive message, before Donald Trump came along and doubled-down on white identity politics one more time – and won.

Now there’s no doubt this is Trump’s party now. Its desire for policies benefiting the largely white business class is harnessed to an appeal to racial solidarity that keeps non-college educated folk in the fold despite the lack of any tangible accomplishments on their behalf. In a pure power struggle bereft of any principles of generosity or common purpose, those who already hold power have a built-in advantage, and that’s what Republicans are counting upon. But let’s please discard the idea that Trump and his allies are innocent of identity politics. They are master practitioners of that art.

2 comments on “Trump’s Closing Midterm Pitch: White Identity Politics

  1. Candace on

    I wonder how Trump/Republicans views on the caravan, immigration, race and MAGA factor into their usage and the survival of the H-2B seasonal visa program.

  2. Victor on

    I thought this website was dedicated to building a lasting Democratic majority.

    Validating notions that Republicans are the party of white nationalists goes totally against that goal.

    The notion of Republicans as racists forecloses change and is based on faulty analysis based on biases and conflicts of interests.

    It is not surprising that the centrists who have controlled the Democratic party insist on pushing liberal identity politics inside the party while affirming that the opposition is now suddenly captured by white identity politics.

    This narrative is meant to rehabilitate centrism and to cast it as the only alternative to the evil taking over the other party. (It is not surprising -yet contradictory- that the people pushing this narrative also usually argue that progressives need to sacrifice their ideas and compromise inside the left.)

    The notion that evil and not competing interests and ideologies explains the behavior of wide swaths of politicians and voters is facile and misleading.

    Things that are well known after 2016 include:

    1. That liberals are the ones that have moved further left on several cultural issues.

    This explains part of the backlash on the right.

    A good example is abolish ICE.

    2. That Republicans are still mostly the party of the white middle class.

    The white working class may increasingly vote GOP, but like the rest of the working class abstention is what defines it most.

    3. That racial views are complex and interact in complex ways with economic circumstances.

    Not all Hispanics back liberal immigration policies.

    Racial resentment cuts across classes.

    Racial resentment is hard to measure as most people have complex views on the subject.

    Whether an area is doing well economically and whether large volumes of immigration are new to an area influence the response.

    Etc, etc, etc

    If fascism rises in America it will be because an overwhelming majority of people think the media (specially political analysts) are diving the country more than uniting it and an even larger majority while being anti-racist is tired of the kind of facile explanations and rules that define political correctness culture.

    We need better analysis and less voter blaming.


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