In yesterday's post, I tackled yet another in a long series of attempts by political scientists to come to grips with the unfathomable rise of Donald Trump to head a major party ticket. Along the way, I took a little cheap shot at a grad school associate, Jonathan Bernstein, for his devotion to The Party Decides and its elite-driven model of nomination politics, in which Trump shouldn't have had a chance, and ultimately just suggested that voters liked Trump's schtick. Bottom-up, not top-down.
So let's tease that out a bit further. Let's pay attention, not to the inept fools who were supposed to stop Trump, but to the voters who just liked him. We're already seeing the start of the "oh no, what will happen to the Republican Party now?!" line of inquiry. Wrong question. The right question to ask is this: what happens to the Trump voters after his probable loss?
Trump's candidacy is deeply complicated on the issue of race. Back in April, I tried to pick apart the underlying theories of race and political science involved in his candidacy, and man, is it a mess. His rhetoric, though, is often less than vague. For now, though, between Trump's rise as the leader of the birther movement through his Mexican rapist comment through the muslim ban to his endorsement by David Duke, let's just say he represents what Republican Speaker Paul Ryan says: "textbook racism." Nice to be able to hide behind those italics. Or, there's the whole George Will thing. Or, well, I could keep going, but I've got shit to do today, like getting my syllabi ready.
Back in that April post, I was dealing with the debate over "symbolic racism." The question of symbolic racism" was whether or not racism was so verboten to express publicly that those who held such beliefs needed to find more coded expressions.
On February 4, 2010, Bill O'Reilly discussed and dismissed as obviously fraudulent a poll that showed only 42% of Republicans believed that Obama was born in the US. To believe that would be both "stupid and evil." Or, let's just call it what it is: racism. Therefore, the poll had to be fraudulent. QED.
From the 2012 National Election Studies Survey, among self-identified "strong Republicans," 14% said that Obama was "definitely" born in the US, 33.7% said "probably," 35.7% said he was "probably" born elsewhere, and 16.6% said he was "definitely" born elsewhere. Those calculations were made using post-stratification weights, and you can access the data yourself here.
I've seen smaller polls indicating this, and I'll bet the 2016 NES will eventually confirm: Trump voters in the Republican primary are the ones who think Obama is a Kenyan muslim. Those beliefs aren't going away, and those voters aren't going away.
And the demand for the expression of those beliefs from a candidate won't go away.
So I return to my earlier question. If Republican leaders attempt to steer the party in a different direction, what will Trump's voters do?
More than anything else, this year seems to demonstrate that the elite-driven model of The Party Decides is, and always was, bunk. And, if those voters want a different kind of racial politics, someone's going to give it to them.
HL Mencken: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it, good and hard."