Trump has now won the Republican party primary fight and will be the party's candidate for President. Who voted for him in the primaries and why did they do so? Can he expand his supporters in the general election?
Studies of the voters show that Trump is popular among (white, male) persons with only a high school diploma or less. One study notes: "an analysis of voters by education in states where exit or entrance polling is available, nearly half of those with high school diplomas or less schooling said they supported the billionaire [over the other candidates]." http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/trump-overwhelmingly-leads-rivals-in-support-from-less-educated-americans/ Middle aged white men who never went to college are his prime followers.
Trump supporters include workers hit hardest by the loss in manufacturing jobs in this country. They are also the persons who have not adjusted to the cultural changes in the country - the acceptance of gay marriage, broader support for abortion, and the civil rights revolution of the past decades. In addition, there is a sharp ideological split in the nation. Various studies show that Americans who attend church frequently are significantly more likely to be Republican and less likely to be Democratic. Only 25% of white Protestants who attend church once a week vote Democratic. And 61% of the religiously unaffiliated vote Democratic.
Rather than focus on the corporations and the top 5% who have done so well by sending jobs overseas and by refusing to raise wages for the working class, the losers in the economic competition look for someone else to blame for their unhappy state.
There is a darker element to this development. Richard Hofstadter has referred to the "paranoid style in American politics." He refers to the "animosities and passions of a small minority" who believe that mysterious conspiracies are threatening their lives. These ideas go back to the earliest days of the nation when the Masons were believed to have established a separate system of loyalty to their own group that interfered with loyalty to the nation. Then the Jesuits were thought to be center of an evil plot against American values. The Know-Nothing party was formed in the 1850's precisely to counter the influx of Catholics from Ireland and Italy whom the party accused of undermining the nativist values of the nation. One of the party's newspapers complained: "America has become the sewer into which the pollutants of European jails are emptied," a statement that could have been asserted by Trump if one substituted "Mexican" for "European."
This paranoid style in American politics is still alive today. We have a questioner of Donald Trump telling him that we have to get rid of all the Muslims in the United States. Even after his primary victory, Trump still insisted that Muslims not be admitted into the country without greater scrutiny. Trump supports the idea - similar to the platform of the Know-Nothing party -- that immigrants are the true source of evil in our society. They do not speak our language, take away our jobs, pollute our neighborhoods with their dirty ways, spread diseases, murder our children and rape our wives and daughters. White evangelicals are particularly susceptible to this attack. "Two-thirds of white evangelicals say that immigrants are a burden on the country because they take jobs, housing and health care . Six in 10 say it bothers them when they come in contact with immigrants who speak little English." About three quarter of the evangelicals "say that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life." http://billmoyers.com/story/so-who- are-donald-trumps-voters/
The Tea Party is the true successor of the Know Nothing Party. The origins of the name came when a correspondent on CNBC, Rick Santelli, complained about a government program to make payments to homeowners who could no longer make mortgage payments. He condemned the idea that the government would "subsidize the losers" and asked for a tea party to be formed to object to government social programs. So the "losers" the poor, the racial minorities, the immigrants, the 47% are the problem, rather than the corporate owners and bosses who demand and receive the biggest cut of the pie and refuse to share their wealth with the middle class.
But all of this plays into Trump's hands. Rather than accurately explain the true economic issues facing the middle class, Trump and the other Republicans invent bogus tax plans that have no basis in reality -- repealing the tax code and reducing taxes to everyone (mostly those on top) which will somehow trim down the national debt and bring untold benefits to everyone. When these benefits do not emerge, Republican leaders barrage the lower middle class with attacks on the bad people (immigrants, Muslims) who do not look or talk like them and threaten their lives and jobs. They play on the lower middle class' impulse to believe themselves better than some other group which becomes the basis for their own self-esteem. About 60% of the persons voting for Trump believe that immigration was the most important issue dictating how they voted.
As Freud told us in "Future of an Illusion," the "right to despise those that are outside it compensates them for the wrongs they suffer in their own group." This was why poor whites in the South were the chief advocates and supporters of slavery before the Civil War and segregation thereafter. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in "Between the World and Me":
"The two great divisions of society are not the rich and the poor, but white and black," said the great South Carolina Senators John C. Calhoun. And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, "belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals." And there it is - the right to break the black body as the meaning of their sacred equality. And that right has always given them meaning has always meant that there was someone down in the valley, because a mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below.
Barbara Ehrenreich has recently written:
the maintenance of white privilege, especially among the least privileged whites, has become more difficult and so, for some, more urgent than ever. Poor whites always had the comfort of knowing that someone was worse off and more despised than they were; racial subjugation was the round under their feet, the rock they stood upon, even when their own situation was deteriorating.
Trump insists that the presence of Latino immigrants and Muslims are the reasons for the lower class' dissatisfaction with their life. Such arguments divert the middle class from insisting on higher wages and better programs that will adversely affect the rich supporters of the Republican Party.
What does this mean for the general election? If older, white, less educated male voters choose Trump, those with some college training do not. But over 60% of the population have some college training. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_attainment_in_the_United_States.
Trump also fares badly among women, minorities and the young. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/the-trumpian-coalition/481272/
Trump's expected move to the middle may draw a few more voters, but his past indiscreet rants will not be forgotten. The odds are still long against him.
Leon Friedman is a Professor of Constitutional Law at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University.