20 Nov 201510,720A Super PAC tied to Ohio Governor John Kasich is annnouncing a new multi-million dollar effort to torpedo Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination.
Trump’s continued dominance of national and state-level polling has vexed the GOP establishment and pushed it to near-panic as voting nears.
A recent survey of public attitudes by Reuters/Ispos, though, suggests caution for the GOP establishment.
Whatever failings there may be in his specific policies, Donald Trump’s campaign has tapped into a strong, visceral feeling of millions of Americans. Seeking to destroy Trump, the candidate, may further alienate the Republican party from a rapidly growing block of voters.
According to the Reuters survey, 58 percent Americans say they “don’t identify with what America has become.” While Republicans and Independents are the most likely to agree with this statement, even 45 percent of Democrats share this feeling.
More than half of Americans, 53 percent, say they “feel like a stranger” in their own country. A minority of Americans feel “comfortable as myself” in the country.
There are no doubt lots of reasons underlying this feelings. Demographically, Americans holding these views tend to be white, older, live in the South and have less than a college education. Politically, they are cordoned off as the white working class. While they rarely attract much attention from the political class, they still represent an enormous block of voters.
Their numbers may be declining relative to the entire population, but they are still the largest single block of voters. In many critical swing states like Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina, they represent a significant base of voters that can determine the outcome of elections.
The reasons for their alienation are both cultural and economic. The economic anxiety sparked by the financial crisis in 2007-8 has likely pushed them further away from the mainstream political parties. This isn’t solely a phenomenon on the right, as the resurgent popularity of explicitly socialist policies on the left attest.
Even allowing that the economy has officially been in recovery for the past six years, its benefits haven’t been felt widely. The jobs gained during the economic recovery have generally been at lower wages and benefits than before the Great Recession. The number of Americans not in the labor force, on food stamps or permanent disability have all reached historic highs. Concerns over income inequality have increased as the Federal Reserve has pumped trillions of dollars of stimulus into Wall Street and the financial markets.
There are cultural factors as well.
Several years ago, leading Democrat strategists created the “Bobby Kennedy Project,” an effort to increase the party’s appeal to white working class voters. The effort was soon abandoned, though, when it became clear that the party would have to moderate some of its more progressive social positions. The Democrat party, for now at least, has staked its future on appealing to young and minority voters.
Whether or not this is the politically smart play for the future remains to be seen. In the present, however, it means that a huge block of voters feel alienated and are up for grabs politically. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is perfectly attuned to those voters who feel increasingly like “strangers” in their own country.
Panic breeds actions born out of emotions rather than somber reflection. The Republican establishment is understandably panicked at the thought of Donald Trump capturing the party’s nomination for President. It is convinced, perhaps incorrectly, that a Trump candidacy will doom the party’s chances next year.
Its zeal to derail his campaign carries huge risks for the party, however. The Trump phenomenon is not simply the product of a media-savvy, hyper-personality candidate. It is drawing strength from very real sentiments of a huge block of voters. The Republican party may take out Trump, but it alienates these voters at its peril.