Tag Archives: Trump

The Animosity Coalition

I almost always learn something from reading Thomas Edsall’s “Guest Essays” (formerly known as “Op Eds”) in the New York Times. He usually surveys and cites several academic researchers with expertise in whatever subject he’s investigating, and–as a recent essay demonstrated–he sometimes comes up with a nice turn of phrase.

Edsall’s topic was the “animosity coalition.”

In 2016, Donald Trump recruited voters with the highest levels of animosity toward African Americans, assembling a “schadenfreude” electorate — voters who take pleasure in making the opposition suffer — that continues to dominate the Republican Party, even in the aftermath of the Trump presidency.

Schadenfreude electorate.” Perfect!!

Edsall doesn’t mince words about the composition of that electorate, pointing out that Trump played to the dark side of American politics, constructing an “animosity coalition” composed of “the alienated, the distrustful, voters willing to sacrifice democracy for a return to white hegemony.” As he says, segregationists have long been a permanent fixture of American politics, although shifting between the two major parties.

And that brings us to an essential insight that answers what has been a vexing question, at least for me. 

Edsall quotes Liliana Mason for the insight–which is that their solidification of control over the Republican Party has mades White supremacy seem to be  a partisan issue. Mason points out, however, that members of what she calls the segregation faction have been around much longer than our current partisan divide. In fact, she says, “they are not loyal to a party — they are loyal to white Christian domination.” (emphasis mine)

There is a faction in American politics that has moved from party to party, can be recruited from either party, and responds especially well to hatred of marginalized groups. They’re not just Republicans or Democrats, they’re a third faction that targets parties.

Mason’s conclusions are echoed by other researchers, who have found Trump supporters exhibiting attitudes about racial groups, immigrants and political correctness that rival partisanship and are “negatively related to support for mainstream Republican candidates.”

That insight explains something that so many of us have found baffling: why would elected Republican officials and Republican candidates for public office–many of whom clearly know better– dutifully echo Trump’s bigotries and support his Big Lie? 

The usual theory is that this represents a combination of fecklessness and ambition. Among those who do know better are individuals who lack a moral center–who see which way the GOP winds are blowing for GOP primary voters–and who are prioritizing their personal electoral prospects above their moral and patriotic duties. They are “playing to the base.”

What the cited scholarship adds to that explanation is an important insight: the “base” to which these candidates are pandering isn’t even a Republican base–at least, not as political scientists define a party’s base. It’s the voters who were unhappy with Trump, or with their particular House or Senate candidates, but who nevertheless loyally voted Republican, who are members of the base.

In other words, voters for whom an R or D next to a name on the ballot is dispositive constitute a political party’s true base.

That is not a description of the “animosity coalition” that effectively controls today’s GOP. Those voters have shifted parties before and they would do so again, because their allegiance is to White Christian dominance. As a result, Republicans who need their votes can’t rely on the old political calculation (“where would they go? to the Democrats? Not likely!”) because significant numbers of these voters really would desert candidates who they perceive as insufficiently reactionary/racist.

Julie Wronski, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi — a co-author, with Mason and John Kane of N.Y.U., of a just published paper, “Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support” — put it this way in reply to my emailed query:

The Trump coalition is motivated by animosity toward Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and L.G.B.T. This animosity has no bearing on support for any of the other G.O.P. elites or the party itself. Warmth toward whites and Christians equally predict support for Trump, other G.O.P. elites, and the party itself. The only area where Trump support is different than other G.O.P. support is in regards to harnessing this out-group animus.

For as long as Trump remains the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, Wronski continued, “this animosity coalition will define the party.”

The animosity coalition is composed of folks whose only real goals are to protect White Christian privilege and “own the libs.” 

In Edsall’s felicitous phrase, they are the “schadenfreude” electorate.

 

 

Hopeful Signs

During some twenty years on a university faculty, I learned to appreciate the vast differences in the reliability of research, especially survey research. It isn’t simply the “garbage” studies that are promoted by partisans of one sort or another–even serious efforts at determining attitudes and beliefs of particular populations run into problems with the way in which questions are posed and the selection of representative respondents, among other minefields.

Carefully crafted, reliable surveys require skilled researchers (they’re also very expensive), so we need to look carefully at the source of data coming from survey researchers. One of the most skilled, reliable and reputable of such sources is Pew Research–which is why I was so heartened by a recent study Pew published, showing that the electorate is shifting — and not in the Republican Party’s favor.

As The Week reported:

A new deep dive into the 2020 electorate by Pew Research contains mostly bad news for Republicans, whose approaching demographic doom is less racial than it is generational. While it shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point that young voters are a solidly blue voting bloc, the more worrisome developments for the GOP are the unexpectedly elderly nature of the party’s coalition and the unyielding Democratic lean of younger voters as they age. If Pew’s numbers are to be believed, the only solidly Republican age demographic last year was 75 and over, meaning that every time the sun comes up, the GOP’s struggle to win a majority of American voters gets harder.

Pew’s in-depth study uses validated voter files – matching panelists to a registration database confirming whether or not they turned out – to offer a different, and possibly more accurate, view of the electorate than the exit polls taken on Election Day. Often this new data can challenge narratives that set in stubbornly and immediately after the votes are counted – in 2016, for example, Pew’s research found that Donald Trump won white women by a considerably smaller margin than Election Day surveys indicated, upending one prevailing story about who was most responsible for Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss.

Some of the ways in which Pew’s findings differed from the arguably less-precise findings of exit polls included the extent of Trump’s inroads with Latino and Black voters (he did somewhat better with Latinos and worse with Blacks than previously reported) and the fact that he did not win married men by 11 points–in fact, Pew found that married men went for Biden by 5.

But it was the age numbers that I found most hopeful. Exit polls had shown Biden winning 18- to 29-year-olds by 24 points, 60-36; Pew found it at a similar, albeit slightly smaller 58-38. Exit polls also showed Trump with just a 52-47 edge among voters over 65, and Pew’s numbers were almost identical – 52-48 for Trump over Biden.

Pew also broke the survey down into not just age groups but generational cohorts. And it’s here where you’ll find the most terrifying information for the GOP. According to Pew, Trump won a decisive majority only with members of the “Silent Generation,” those born between 1928 and 1945 (and the extremely tiny number of living people older than that). Trump dominated that cohort by 16 points, 58-42. That means that the only reliably Republican voter bloc will shrink considerably between now and 2024, and that 65- to 74-year-olds must have been a much more blue-leaning group in 2020 to produce Trump’s comparatively narrow 4-point margin with all over-65s.

As the article notes, you don’t need a degree in actuarial science to know that 65- to 74-year-olds will be around considerably longer than 75- to 102-year-olds.

Perhaps even worse for former President Trump and his acolytes, the Pew data showed little erosion in the millennial preference for Democrats over Republicans. Fifty-six percent of millennials voted for Clinton in 2016, and 58 percent voted for Biden in 2020. Remember, the first millennials voted in 2002, and as a group they simply have not budged. “Elder millennials” are turning 40 this year and they don’t love the Republican Party any more than they did when George W. Bush was lighting several trillion dollars on fire prosecuting a pointless war in Iraq. And that’s terrible news for the GOP’s hopes of ever becoming a majority party again, because if they keep losing the youngest voters by double digits election after election, they need a significant number of them to get more conservative as they age just to hold current margins in place.

This is all good news–in the long run. Even in the medium run.

The task for those of us who are terrified by the GOP’s current efforts to win elections by cheating–gerrymandering, vote suppression, placing unethical partisans in positions to oversee elections, etc.–is to work our fannies off to keep them from destroying democracy in the short run.

 

 

Even A Stopped Clock…

On Wednesday morning, the GOP is very likely to strip Liz Cheney of her House leadership position.

I detested Dick Cheney, and I have no warmer feelings for his daughter. She has routinely staked out “conservative” positions that I oppose–as one pundit recently opined, she is one of the House members who have been most protective of the wealthy, most willing to sacrifice the environment, and most willing to ignore injustice. Just this last year, she’s voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, against the Paycheck Fairness Act, against an expansion of background checks, and against the American Dream Act.

Evidently, she also voted against removing Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees.

Judging by those votes, Cheney would seem to be a perfect representation of today’s Republican orthodoxy. So why are her equally regressive GOP colleagues seemingly out for her blood? Because–despite her track record of really extreme partisanship– she has refused to participate in “the Big Lie.”

As she wrote in The Washington Post,

Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this….

The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have. I have worked overseas in nations where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval. America is exceptional because our constitutional system guards against that. At the heart of our republic is a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power among political rivals in accordance with law. President Ronald Reagan described this as our American “miracle.”

Many years ago, when I was still a Republican, I predicted a schism between what we then called the “country club” members of the GOP and the fundamentalist Christians who were increasingly becoming the party’s foot soldiers. I was wrong. In the intervening years, pro-business “country club” voters separated into two groups–those whose desire for favorable regulatory and tax treatment overcame any moral qualms continued to vote Republican, while those repelled by the party’s increasing focus on culture war simply left. They became independents or joined the Democrats.

The division that threatens to take the GOP the way of the Whigs ends up being between the few Republicans who still live in the real world, and those who live in Trumpland.

Liz Cheney and her rapidly diminishing ilk still believe that the GOP is a party espousing their version of conservative principles, and that fidelity to those principles should be the standard on which they are judged. They are living in the past. In the 2020 election, the GOP didn’t even bother to produce a platform. In place of policy debates, the party falls back on a racism that is hardly masked by the repetition of tired slogans about “socialism” and “cancel culture.” Rather than any measured response to Biden’s agenda, GOP figures engage in diatribes about Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss.

Today’s GOP is the party of Marjorie Taylor Green, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Lauren Boebert–a pathetic mix of venal and crazy. In that environment, even someone as ideologically unattractive as Liz Cheney looks good.

As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

 

Today’s GOP Even Frightens David Brooks

David Brooks frustrates me. Sometimes, I disagree strongly with his “take” on the American condition (usually offered from what seems a self-consciously “elevated” vantage point), but sometimes, he hits the nail squarely on the head. I continue to read his columns in the New York Times for those latter instances, of which last Friday’s was one.

Titled “The GOP is Getting Even Worse,” Brooks commented on the cultural hysteria that has clearly gripped the Republicans’ (declining) base.

There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

Survey research provides support for that observation. Brooks points to a poll taken in late January, in which respondents were asked whether politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or more about “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it. ” Fifty-one percent of Trump Republicans said survival; a mere 19 percent chose policy.

Another poll asked Americans which of two statements came closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Those who read this blog can guess what’s coming: More than 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

Brooks is absolutely right when he writes that

Liberal democracy is based on a level of optimism, faith and a sense of security. It’s based on confidence in the humanistic project: that through conversation and encounter, we can deeply know each other across differences; that most people are seeking the good with different opinions about how to get there; that society is not a zero-sum war, but a conversation and a negotiation.

He is also right when he observes that the Republican response to Biden and his agenda has largely been anemic “because the base doesn’t care about mere legislation, just their own cultural standing.”

For years, the refrain from what Americans call “the Left” (and what is globally considered pretty middle-of-the-road) has been “why do so many people vote against their own best interests?” That question, however, rests on a faulty premise. Moderate and leftwing folks define “best interests” in largely economic terms. Voters would be “better off” financially or more likely to find employment if they voted differently. But today’s Republicans see their “best interests” in cultural and racial terms, not economic promises.

The overwhelmingly White Christian supporters of today’s GOP see a demographic shift that will eventually rob them of what is clearly most important to them–far more important than a good job or a fairer tax system or the rate of inflation. Their “interest” is in continued cultural and racial dominance–and as the research shows, many of them are willing to engage in violence, a la January 6th, to protect that dominance.

It’s scary.

A Perfect Representative

Okay–I can’t resist. Let’s talk about Matt Gaetz–not because of his evident sexual misdeeds, but because even without considering those, he is an almost perfect example of  the caliber of individual representing today’s GOP.

Gail Collins captured his essence in a recent New York Times column.

As it stands, Gaetz is a spectacularly unproductive Florida Republican who never managed, during his first two terms in the House, to get a single bill that he sponsored signed into law. (We are still crossing our fingers for that post-office-naming he co-sponsored.) Meanwhile, by Forbes’s count, he has appeared on Fox News at least 179 times since taking office.

Collins had a lot of snarky fun comparing Gaetz’ current situation to past scandals (Tidal Basin, anyone?), but most of those involved people who had actually accomplished something–people of at least some substance who betrayed their promise or otherwise fell from grace.

Gaetz–whom Collins accurately calls a “fanboy”–spent the Trump years with his attention  focused on building his “personal brand,” rather than on learning the intricacies of legislating, or  forging relationships in Congress. He was much more interested in getting on television and getting close to the new president.( He was especially interested in being on what one colleague called “The Trump Train.”) There are multiple reports that he bragged about his relationship with Trump and about his own sexual “exploits”–including reports that he repeatedly showed Congressional colleagues pictures of naked women with whom he claimed he’d slept.

A CNN article listed some of the reasons Gaetz is considered “unserious” by even his Republican colleagues. (“Unserious” is a nicer word than “asshole.”)

Gaetz courted controversy in numerous ways, earning him notoriety in the House — along with television appearances in conservative media.

In 2018, he was criticized after he invited a conservative troll with a history of Holocaust denial to the State of the Union.

A year later, Gaetz threatened Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen ahead of his 2019 House testimony, tweeting, “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat.”

He was admonished by the House Ethics Committee and investigated and cleared by the Florida Bar over the tweet, which he deleted and apologized for.

During the House’s first impeachment inquiry, Gaetz led a band of Republicans in a stunt to “storm” the House Intelligence secure committee spaces where the impeachment interviews were being held. And last year, Gaetz wore a gas mask on the House floor to vote on a coronavirus funding package.

 In other words, Gaetz is a perfect representation of today’s Republican Party. He is obviously uninterested in governing. Instead, he seems intent upon performative “conservatism” aka “culture war.”  

In that–if not the behavior that led to his current legal problems–he is a typical Republican.

An opinion piece by Ezra Klein included a perfect description of today’s iteration of the GOP. Klein was trying to explain Joe Biden’s unanticipated willingness to forsake efforts to persuade Congressional Republicans to engage in genuine bipartisanship. 

In a discussion of Mitch McConnell’s role in GOP intransigence, Klein wrote.

Over the past decade, congressional Republicans slowly but completely disabused Democrats of these [bipartisanship] hopes. The long campaign against the ideological compromise that was the Affordable Care Act is central here, but so too was then-Speaker John Boehner’s inability to sell his members on the budget bargain he’d negotiated with President Barack Obama, followed by his refusal to allow so much as a vote in the House on the 2013 immigration bill. And it’s impossible to overstate the damage that Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling of Merrick Garland, followed by his swift action to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, did to the belief among Senate Democrats that McConnell was in any way, in any context, a good-faith actor. They gave up on him completely.

Today’s Congressional GOP is a marriage between terminally unserious “culture warriors” like Gaetz, Nunes, Jim Jordan and their ilk and those who–like Mitch McConnell–are willing to ignore the common good and the needs of the country in their pursuit of self-aggrandizement.

There’s no negotiating with either faction, because they aren’t there to govern.