What happens when a “populist” conidate becomes president and has to account for the contradictions between his rhetoric and his real platform? What happens when a bill is on his desk and he has to either sign it or veto it and can’t do both? With the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate trying to push through TrumpRyancare in a span of two weeks, we may soon see.
Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie says that for Trump to sign Trumpcare, Medicaid cuts, tax cuts for the rich, and the rest of his typical Republican agenda, he will lay bare the phoniness of his “populism,” alienating him from the “working class” voters who are credited with powering him to victory. I’m not so sure.
Bouie cites recently released studies of cultural-identity politics views and the 2016 election. Of particular interest is Lee Drutman’s study, which plotted voters on quadrants by economic views and social views in order to arrive at four groups: traditional conservatives (conservative on economic and cultural issues), traditional liberals, and, most important, “populists” (liberal on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues). You might associate these groups with particular candidates: Mitt Romney and House Speaker Paul Ryan in the traditional conservative camp, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama traditional liberals, Gary Johnson a populist, and Donald Trump a “populist.”
As you can see, “populists” are a big group, and Republicans seemed to do win more of them than did Democrats, despite the fact that those voters should agree with the Democratic economic agenda more than with the Republicans.
The data bares out that Trump won the vast majority of “populists”:
Why didn’t Republicans win “populists” in 2012 or 2008? One key point: Even as Romney and Ryan might well be more conservative/right-wing than the general public on cultural issues, they are not as conservative, and importantly, not as vocal in expressing those views, as Trump is.
See this chart correlating favorability views of Ryan, Trump, and Ted Cruz with cultural-identity politics views and see that viewpoints of Ryan’s supporters are well to the left of those of Trump’s:
So Romney, Ryan, and McCain didn’t appeal to the cultural grievances of cultural conservatives. Recall McCain shut down a townhall questioner who told him Obama was “Arab.”
Compare that with how Trump responded to a questioner who said that Obama was a non-American Muslim. He said nothing to disavow and responded to it as if it were a normal question.
The contrast in their responses is but one example of behaviors taken by McCain that turned off white voters who felt cultural resents, while Trump’s actions attracted them.
At the same time, Trump also said he would protect Social Security and Medicare, spend money on infrastructure, and cover everyone via healthcare. Now that Trump is breaking those promises, Bouie thinks Trump will pay for it in 2016. He can’t pretend to be a friend of the “white working class,” the thinking goes.
I think Bouie might be wrong. Trump may yet be able to attract self-proclaimed supporters of Social Security and universal healthcare. Consider how Trump has responded to the healthcare bill. He is doing the same thing he did with success in the election: He is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, issuing contradictory word salad statements that his admirers can interpret however they like.
At a campaign rally in Iowa one day before the Senate’s healthcare bill was released, Trump said, “I’ve been talking about a plan with heart. I said, ‘Add more money to it.'” The next day, he came out strongly in support of the healthcare bill, which cuts funding for healthcare from current levels and cuts Medicare.
Many Trump voters will take Trump’s words as fact. They already don’t believe any facts reported in the press that conflict with their world view. The one network Trump voters are more likely to believe–Fox News–is not talking much about the healthcare bill and when it does not delving into what the bill actually does.
Even during the campaign, there were already indications for voters paying attention that Trump was a typical Republican who would pursue policies that didn’t help the financial state of the working class. Trump was clear that he wanted to “repeal” Obamacare. Of course he also issued vague drivel about how people would have “much better” healthcare and everyone would somehow be covered. That he was able to get away with it when he clearly had no plan suggests maybe he can get away with it again.
That said, I don’t think that Trump will have an easy path to reelection. Even if all the underlying factors remain the same, if Trump faces a stronger Democratic candidate, he would likely lose. The races in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan were decided by a total of less than 80,000 votes. A stronger candidate could have beat him in 2016, and, given that his approval rating is around 39% now and that he faces an obstruction of justice investigation that looks like it will continue for the next year or two, he will be even easier to beat in 2020. I just don’t think the exposure of his hypocrisy on economic populism will have a huge impact either way.