Trump loses with *Women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Millennials, Gays, Muslim Americans, Disabled Americans, Rodeo Clowns and Three Legged Dogs, but manages to pull out a win with nothing but White men (*and 53% of White women…). WTF?
Coalitions are difficult things to create and even more difficult to maintain. Mostly because self interest will almost always negate common cause. So the trick to creating and maintaining an effective coalition is to link the self interests of many, often disparate groups with a common cause. In other words; make them think that your cause serves and furthers their self interest.
Blue collar, white collar, college educated, non-college educated, rust belt, bible belt, heartland, elites, Republican, “Reagan Democrat”
None of those labels really mattered very much to Trump.
For Donald J. Trump the through-line to creating and maintaining his coalition was quite simply POWER. Specifically the overarching fear of White people that they are losing their dominance in a country in which White people have held all of the power since the founding of the republic.
The narrative for Trump’s campaign was already in place.
This is a critically important point because it served to expedite what is perhaps the most difficult and time consuming part of any political campaign: Fashioning the campaign’s theme and and narrative.
Fear masquerading as a “desire for change” became Trump’s sub-textual narrative. The concept of stoking and playing on that fear made for an effective narrative because it was already there, in place when he arrived on the scene. He did not need to create a narrative that he needed to sell or explain to people. All he needed to do was push a button. He knew exactly what and where that button was and he pushed it hard.
The fear of the loss of power at every level and aspect of the lives of many White people in this country is at the root of Trump’s win and also accounts for the stealth nature of those voters for the pollsters.
I mean think about it; Who the hell wants to admit to themselves, much less a stranger that is asking you to divulge your political preferences and the reasons associated with those leanings, that you feel powerless to shape or control many aspects of your life and are existentially afraid of losing your ethnic dominance in society? Hell, how many people are even really introspectively honest enough with themselves to make that realization?
Conversely, Hillary Clinton attempted to create a coalition using the opposite formula; that being inducing people of different groups to all put a somewhat nebulous common cause above their own self interest.
That only works if your campaign has a theme and a narrative that are truly inspirational on a gut level. Barrack Obama did, Hillary Clinton did not.
The reasons why she did not are many. But the short answer is baggage and a weak brand.
Barrack Obama, despite having a funny name and being a Black man with relatively little experience in the political arena, had very little actual baggage. So his inspirational narrative sparked the interest and energy of a diverse coalition of people and so eclipsed what baggage he brought to the campaign. In addition, his brand; HOPE and CHANGE connected viscerally with people struggling to find a handle on the turbulent times and was exactly what people needed after the complete demoralization of the Bush presidency.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, despite having what seemed on paper to be a compelling narrative; which was her being the most qualified candidate in perhaps the history of the republic in addition to being the first woman in history to be nominated as the candidate of a major political party, had enough baggage (both actual and fictional) to fill a train car. That baggage eclipsed her poorly formed inspirational narrative which was never clear to people on a visceral level, leaving her already weak and suspicious coalition very little reason to forgo their self interest and sign on to her cause.
Point of clarity: When I say that Hillary Clinton had a poorly formed narrative I mean that it was not connecting with an existential condition of her coalition. In other words she had to keep explaining why that mattered to people and how it would improve their lives.
Add to that a deep resentment among a key component of her coalition (voters aged 18-35) over the perceived (and actual) undermining of their preferred candidate (Bernie Sanders) by his own political party and you have a recipe for failure.
In addition, her brand; STRONGER TOGETHER is something straight out of a team building retreat playbook. It’s nice and morally accurate but it offers nothing to speak to the self interest of an electorate that has struggled and suffered through a difficult recovery with very little to show for it and that becomes an even steeper climb if you want your message to resonate with a portion of the electorate that sees “rugged individualism” as a cornerstone of the American mystique.
Many people that she badly needed to connect with simply did not ever see her as the Avatar of change in their lives.
Her seeming reluctance to embrace the policy agenda of Bernie Sanders, a wildly popular candidate with a huge and ferociously loyal following, along with her failure to throw those followers a bone by selecting a running mate that could inspire and motivate those voters to come over to her camp (I like and respect Tim Kaine but inspirational he ain’t…) and the result was a campaign that was doomed to lose momentum instead of gaining it over the long and brutal slog to election day.
Her failings as Secretary of State, her historical controversies and her tendency to be secretive and equivocal, even in areas of her private and political life that are quite benign, only served to provide fertile ground for Trump and his surrogates to flog the narrative that she was “crooked” and deceptive.
“But what about Trump” you say! “He has enough baggage to fill Trump Tower twice.”
True. Donald Trump is not without baggage. To be sure, he brings with him all of the dark and lesser tendencies of our nature as a people and as Americans; Racism, Bigotry, Misogyny, Homophobia, lechery and debauchery. He has defrauded and lied to people in every facet of his life both public and private, on an epic scale.
But here’s the thing;
Donald Trump, while being compromised morally, legally and politically, undoubtedly embodies, for much of White America, the television caricature of “POWER” in all of the possible definitions of that brand. And make no mistake, power is very definitely the heart and shriveled soul of Trump’s brand. Don’t believe me? Well here is a simple exercise to prove my point: take any edifice that Trump has plastered his name on in gigantic all caps garishness, cross it out and in it’s place use the word POWER. I think that will illustrate my point quite effectively. Even his campaign slogan; “Make America Great Again” can easily be crossed out and replaced with “Giving Your Power Back To You.”
And giving them back their power is a very seductive message, both overtly and covertly, for those people that are deathly afraid of losing it.