The conventional wisdom post the Republican Presidential Debate is that Donald Trump suffered a setback, due to the tough questioning he was run through by Rupert Murdoch’s minions. I’m not sure that is correct. The Trump partisan thinks the whole game is fixed, and so last week’s debate looked just like one more attempt to fix the game by Murdoch and his consigliere, Roger Ailes. Trump refuses to spout Fox corporatist talking points, like in this exchange with Brett Baier:
FOX News Brett Baier (talking to Trump): Now, 15 years ago, you called yourself a liberal on health care. You were for a single-payer system, a Canadian-style system. Why were you for that then and why aren’t you for it now?
TRUMP: As far as single payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about here. What I’d like to see is a private system without the artificial lines around every state. I have a big company with thousands and thousands of employees. And if I’m negotiating in New York or in New Jersey or in California, I have like one bidder. Nobody can bid.
You know why? Because the insurance companies are making a fortune because they have control of the politicians, of course, with the exception of the politicians on this stage. (uneasy laughter) But they have total control of the politicians. They’re making a fortune.
So here is Trump saying the game is fixed, but I know how to play the game better than the idiots on this stage. So elect me. But the real reason Trump’s popularity might not decline is that he is playing to the politics of resentment that we have seen before. When people say they like Trump because he is not “politically correct,” what they are really saying is that he is rich enough to call Obama a carpet-bagging Kenyan and get away with it. A certain amount of instinctive racism and chauvinism still lies in the heart of the American working class and Trumpism is a vehicle for its expression. Think of how this played out in Germany in the 1930s. As the great historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote in his book, The Age of Extremes:
Fascism was triumphantly anti-liberal. It also provided the proof that men can, without difficulty, combine crack-brained beliefs about the world with a confident mastery of contemporary high technology and communication.
Does this not define Trumpism? But it would be foolish to just put his popularity down to racism. The Washington Post recently interviewed Rick Buchanan, a general contractor:
Rick Buchanan explains it by talking about his industry, construction, where the share of Hispanic workers has doubled over the last 15 years, to more than a quarter of all workers, according to the Labor Department.
“The Hispanics have taken over the construction industry,” Buchanan, a general contractor, said on a recent afternoon at a gathering of conservative activists near the Shenandoah Valley. “All my drywall guys are Hispanic. Plumbers, painters, framers, they’re at least half Hispanic.” For white workers, he said, “these people are taking their jobs. Literally, taking their jobs. I see it. Almost all the white guys are gone. There’s almost no black guys.”
For Democrats to deny that the flood of low wage immigrant labor has not hurt the white and black working class is to be in a zone of denial. But of course Trump does not really have a solution to this problem, other than getting the Mexican government to pay for a giant wall.
Here is the problem that ties into many of the other issues I have been discussing recently. The more the elites proclaim the inevitability of technological and globalized change, the more the average citizen retreats from the responsibilities of citizenship. If the shape of the world is being determined in the headquarters of Google and the Chinese Politburo, why would I think that my voice counts for anything? So we reduce the concept of leadership to that of management. Enter Donald Trump, manager. He is not here to solve our problems, he is here to manage them. He will negotiate a better deal with China, Mexico, Iran…
There is a second resentment Trump is playing to: the insecurity of many white males. The chart above is of tweets connecting Megyn Kelly to the words “cunt, whore, bitch or slut” spiking near the end of the Republican Debate. As we observed during the GamerGate explosion there is a significant number of men who feel deeply threatened by the rise of empowered females in the workplace, in politics and in formerly male domains like video gaming. Donald Trump is the perfect spokesman for them. He is the living embodiment of their belief that they can’t get girls to go to bed with them because girls only want to be with rich guys.
It remains to be seen if Trump has crossed some bright line by his suggestion that Megyn Kelly’s treatment of him on the debate was caused by her menstrual cycle. My guess is that the Donald Show may be (in TV show parlance) on the bubble — about to be canceled. But we have been surprised before by his staying power and his ability to exploit the deep resentments burning in the hearts of many Americans who feel that “their America” is slipping away. And as Nate Silver has pointed out, “There’s a near-perfect correlation, in fact, between how much news coverage a candidate has received and where they rank in recent national polls.”
Given that all the post debate coverage has been about Trump, he may not be slipping in the polls as much as Rupert Murdoch and the Republican establishment would hope. In fact the first post debate poll by NBC News and Survey Monkey still shows Trump leading the Republican pack at 23 percent, with a significant margin over second place Ted Cruz at 13 percent. Maybe even more significant is the fact that the three leading candidates (Trump, Cruz and Carson) are all anti-establishment and collect a total of 47 percent of the votes. This does not bode well for Jeb Bush.
Jonathan Taplin is the Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. He produced the films Mean Streets, The Last Waltz, Until The End Of The World and To Die For.